Volume 75, Number 26 | November 16 -22, 2005

“Civilization Unplugged”
Through November 20
Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Ave. at 19th St.
(212-691-9740; joyce.org)

Illustration by Sara G. Levin

In BodyVox’s “Civilization Unplugged,” dancers appear like ghosts in the machine.

Using dance to break out of our modern routine

By Sara G. Levin

Before staging a single plié, BodyVox directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland began with a question: How would technological evolution flow in reverse? It might seem like an overly academic subject, but “Civilization Unplugged,” BodyVox’s most recent production, takes the company’s characteristic humor to construct a dynamic—and not always serious—answer.

Known for mixing bizarrely funny videos with modern dance, Portland, Or.-based BodyVox has kept audiences entertained with short, funny phrases over its near decade-long run. (Their last New York performance included a film about a John Deere tractor and one about sleep disorders.) This time however, solos and duets are allowed to amble and the mood is sometimes more melancholy than might be expected.

The show arcs from formations of emotionless, precise momentum to more dramatic duets. At first, music helps create the sensation of being part of a machine or organism. It is a disorienting world, filled with underwater, sonar-like sounds. No one moves outside of unison or without being manipulated by another dancer.

“Like everybody, we found that having more access to technology is the great broken promise of the Industrial Revolution,” Hampton said. “More technology was supposed to give us more leisure time and make machines do the work. Yet, we do more work in a dehumanized world. The machine is almost running us.” Hampton and Roland, his wife dance in the piece with the eight other members of BodyVox.

As the dancers continued to develop material, Hampton said he found erasing a digital mindset led the focus to be about human relationships. The idea of “dependence on community” pushed the dancers to experiment more with contact and lifts. In one dynamic display, partners dance with a table by swinging each other over, under, and off it, sliding, flipping, dipping. In an emotional duet, Hampton and Roland roll on the floor in yearning.

Still, the group’s sense of humor is left intact. As the couple rolls on the floor, flowers begin to fall from the ceiling, plopping to the ground because they are tied to rubber duckies. In a restaurant scene, the waiter has a temper tantrum lying on his back in the middle of the stage. He catches individual dancers as if it were the most natural part of his job. Possibly the funniest moments are when audience members are given the chance to dial dancers direct on their cell phones while a film is shown about using mobile phones to avoid awkward conversation.

“We’re more afraid of boredom than anything,” Hampton said when discussing why humor is so important to the group.

The 90 minute piece, the group’s sixth evening-length production, also has a great soundtrack, including songs by Tom Waits, Aphex Twin, Edgar Meyer and Bela Fleck. Though the show has changed little since its premier a month ago in Portland, the finale has been tweaked to include a karaoke version of “Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong. Well received in their own native state, harried New Yorkers may also find solace in BodyVox’s daydreaming disconnect from reality.

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