BodyVox takes 'BloodyVox' to the big screen
Film and dance have merged into a genre called screendance, and Portland filmmaker Robert Uehlin has immersed himself in that melding of choreography and cinematography.
"I'm really attracted to dance as a way to abstract human experience," Uehlin said. "Film and dance have a long-running relationship with each other, back to the beginning and origins of modern dance and film, in general. Some of the first images ever captured were of bodies of moving dancers.
"A dance film is a movie where movement tells you what you need to know that wouldn't be better in person. There's a lot of material that you can't cover in any other way."
When BodyVox asked him to produce a film version of its popular Halloween show, "BloodyVox," he jumped at the opportunity. Uehlin is a dancer who lives in the same Northwest Portland neighborhood and trained at BodyVox, and he's a one-man show — planning, camera, post-production, "I've handled it all," other than some help capturing audio and with production tasks.
The project started in August when BodyVox determined that "BloodyVox" couldn't be a stage event per usual.
Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland, BodyVox's husband/wife team of artistic directors, were really excited about Uehlin making the film, called "BloodyVox: Lockdown," which will be shown as a drive-in experience at Zidell Yards, 3121 S. Moody Ave., Oct. 22-31. It's the first event of BodyVox's 23rd season, is about 90 minutes long and features dancers engaged in about 10 performances centered on a recurring nightmare/COVID-19 lockdown theme.
"I think he's a brilliant filmmaker," Hampton said. "To be a dancer you have to have meticulous imagination. It's a pretty rigorous pursuit. (Uehlin's) done this kind of self-examination as a dancer and applied the same kind of rigor to filmmaking. So many tricks up his sleeve. So facile and adept at technical aspects of filmmaking and editing.
"I told him, 'You're shooting, planning location, scouting, directing and editing, and normal people would have a crew of 10.' He said, 'This is the future of filmmaking, you have to be downsized.' Such a pleasure to work with. Because he's so sweet, everything has happened very efficiently, because we're having so much fun."
Uehlin has worked on BodyVox's Pearl Dive Project and other smaller productions for the company. He has created works for the Portland Dance Film Festival and more.
The way performing arts companies have moved away from stage productions because of the pandemic and government restrictions has not been easy, Uehlin said, and screendance "is almost like a lifeline for dance," he said. "It's engaging the audience in a safe way. Portland has an established community of dance filmmakers."
Uehlin, who moved to Portland from Eugene in 2015, leaned on inspiration from other movies to make "BloodyVox: Lockdown," including "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," "Moulin Rouge," "The Blair Witch Project" and "Chicago."
"This is sort of a dream project for me," he said.
Uehlin likes the "campy and fun" aspect of "BloodyVox" as a Halloween show, rather than the typical "gore, spooky and scary." There'll be some jump-scares, but "levity" plays a big part in the movie.
"That's what I like about it," Uehlin said. "The way they play with the notion of what Halloween is and what the fall season is, it's a little spookiness but more lighthearted than that. I'll have my little sister in the audience for one of the showings; no part of me worried she'll be scared to death. It's an approachable show."
Roland calls it "an entertainment spoof with lots of comedy and surprises, and not diving into the demented or spooky."
She has been busy developing costumes and sets, and the storyline seems pretty current — nightmares, lockdown and COVID-19.
Said Roland: "In the nightmare, they examine the different scenarios and they're wanting to escape. In the end, they wake up, they're not in a nightmare, but in the same reality — in a community where you can't touch anybody. It's what we're all living through."
The movie was partly shot at the old Bridgeport Brewing building on Northwest 13th Avenue and Marshall Street, part of which BodyVox once inhabited.
BodyVox, which had to furlough employees, had turned to virtual content and film when the state shut down in March, and Hampton and Roland have been in contact with performing arts people for guidance and idea collaboration, including locally with the Oregon Symphony, Portland Opera and Oregon Ballet Theatre.
Hampton said they haven't "had time to be frustrated" with how things have been shut down.
"What we do is we're like water: If you put a rock in the middle of our river, we're going to flow around it," he said. "We're determined to flow. We have been reinventing ourselves on a daily basis, assessing our options."
BodyVox often incorporates video and film into its staged dance shows. So, it certainly wasn't a stretch to make "BloodyVox: Lockdown."
Roland said rehearsals have started for the next show, "The Icon," which will be staged in Bend in late December. It also will be taken to Philadelphia in April (and filmed for local consumption). BodyVox has started its next Pearl Dive Project, which allows artistic types from nondance areas to be choreographers.
Maybe someday BodyVox and others will be able to return to the stage.
Tickets start at $35 for "BloodyVox: Lockdown," which will be shown Oct. 22-24 and Oct. 29-31 at Zidell Yards. For more: www.bodyvox.com.
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