An evening of dance and popera

Hannah Penn, well-known opera singer and voice instructor at Porland State’s school of music will be lending her voice to The Body Opera Files, a stage production presented by the Body Vox dance company.

Known for its visual virtuosity, athleticism, use of humor and stunning imagery to mesmerize and delight audiences, Body Vox is one of Portland’s most innovative dance companies. The Body Opera Files, a retelling of the 2009 hit, Foot Opera Files, will stay true to traditional Body Vox form by using a blend of indie rock, opera and dance, which Artistic Director Jamey Hampton refers to as “popera.” This production is set to a soundtrack full of the classic songs of Tom Waits, Elvis Costello and Hugh Laurie.

Penn, who has been teaching at PSU since 2010, has performed in works such as Carmen, La Calisto, La Traviata, Albert Herring and Scenes from Gypsy Life. She and three other classically trained singers will provide the vocals for the performance. For her, the challenge lies in striking just the right balance between classical training and the often rough and bluesy sound of Waits and Costello.

Despite having also appeared in the Foot Opera Files, Penn admits to having had some trepidation about taking on the songs of singers as distinctive as Tom Waits, but she soon discovered that the scope of the music could really bear the weight of the operatic style.

“The melodies are really broad, with great harmonies and great form and structure. It seemed really natural for all of us that are trained in opera to sing these songs,” Penn said.

Penn describes the Body Vox experience as leaving one with a sense of wonder from the joyous, exuberance of the uninhibited creativity. It is her hope that “people leave the show feeling rejuvenated with a new sense of wonder and creativity.”

Like its predecessor, Body Opera Files will be scored by a live indie-rock band of local musicians, consisting of bassist Michael Papillo and percussionist Joe Janiga of 3 Leg Torso, as well as keyboardist Galen Clark of Trio Subtonic.

The show itself centers around a group of characters such as a narcoleptic boxer, a lost and sad hobo, a rock-and-roller (who is a cross between Elvis Presley and Jimmy Stewart), star-crossed young lovers and a torch dancer.

Unlike most dance shows, which present a series of scenes or vignettes set to music, this show “is not a series of pieces, this is a whole piece centered around this group of people who are in a fractured, carnival-like setting,” said Hampton.

Another innovation that is exclusive to The Body Opera Files is the decision to hold the show in the NW Industrial Warehouse instead of Body Vox’s usual performance space. Hampton explains that they didn’t want to create a set that emulated a tarnished environment, they wanted to actually use an industrial space to create a more real experience for the audience.

“The show will have a chaotic feel to it. It will feel a bit dangerous,” Hampton said.

The Body Opera Files opens October 10.