A conversation with BodyVox founders Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland

One tough mama: Ashley Roland with Husband and BodyVox co-founder Jamey Hampton

Since meeting at a Pilobolus workshop in 1983, Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland have been inseparable. The pair performed together in MOMIX (of which Hampton was an original member), and four years later they co-founded ISO Dance—ISO standing for “I’m so optimistic.” In the early 1990s they relocated to Hampton’s hometown of Portland, Oregon, and in 1997, BodyVox was born. Combining sharp wit, multimedia and athleticism, Hampton and Roland’s visually stunning works tour internationally, and their theatrical contemporary dance company has become a mainstay for dance in Portland. They host outreach programs in local schools, and the BodyVox Dance Center is home to dance classes for children and adults and a 200-seat studio theater that also welcomes other dance companies’ performances. Dance Teacher spoke with Hampton and Roland for the company’s 15th anniversary.

Dance Teacher: What are the challenges of running a company with your spouse?

Jamey Hampton: You can’t get away from the work. It’s not uncommon that we’ll both wake up at night, staring into the ceiling and say, “Are you awake?” “Yeah… We have to fix that middle section of the new piece. It’s just not working.” Or, “What do you think about so and so as a board member?” And this is around two or three in the morning!

Ashley Roland: Also, neither of us has any compassion for the other’s aches and pains.

JH: If someone says, “Gosh, my knee is really bugging me; it’s swollen,” the other will never say, “Oh, here honey, get an ice pack and lie down while I make you a cocktail.” Instead, it’s more like, “Well, yeah, I think I have Achilles tendonitis!”

DT: Are there benefits?

JH: Our work is compatible. I tend to work in a more abstract way, and Ashley tends to overlay story or theater onto the pieces. Both of us do a little of each, but the key is that we don’t occupy the same lily pad. Ego is what can keep work from being fulfilled to its full potential. We both have pride and we’re vulnerable, but we can tell quickly when we’re making decisions based on a power struggle, versus what’s best for the work.

DT: Your work, while serious at times, is often funny. Is this your goal?

JH: We like to see the world through a frame of beauty, though we’re not afraid of mystery or tragedy. And though some of our work is heavy, we want our audience to feel great at the end of a piece. But because 20 percent of our show is funny, people say, “Oh, you’re the funny dance company.” Didn’t you see that the other 80 percent is romantic, physical and serious? Sure, some was knee-slapping hilarious, but there is more.

AR: I’m not afraid of people saying we’re fun. What I don’t want is for them to equate the word fun or funny with lightweight. I’d put our work up against anyone as far as craftsmanship goes.

DT: How do you make work accessible to school audiences?

AR: The subjects we choose are always relatable to nondancers. So for kids, you may start with a three-legged race. You can turn it into a five-person race, tying all the legs together, and they get it because they know what it feels like. Then you can make it exciting to watch and musically dynamic. It’s the same for our professional shows. We often use short films to break the ice. It’s a medium that people can relax and watch because they don’t feel pressured to understand what people are saying with just their bodies.

DT: Who has influenced you most?

JH: Alison Chase at Dartmouth College, who taught all the Pilobolus guys. She got me into dance. She realized that at a predominantly male college in the ’70s, she wasn’t going to turn big cross-country skiers or rugby players into dancers. Her strategy was just to have them be themselves. That unlocked our creativity. Sure, she was doing fifth position or pliés; but it was never like, “Now we’re going to study Erick Hawkins.” It was more: “What do you visualize when walking?” Without her class, I would have been a lawyer or something. DT

Photo by Michael Shay, Polara Studio, courtesy of BodyVox

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