Goats, towers, and one dance increasing in size

Ten Tiny Dances breaks records and maybe cheats a little

“Awkward,” Keith Hennessy and Empress Jupiter, TBA:12/Nim Wunnan

By NIM WUNNAN

Emerging twice a year, Ten Tiny Dances could easily pass for some sort of some sort of art-equinox ritual. If you’re unfamiliar, Ten Tiny Dances is the flash-fiction of dance — ten short performances by ten acts, confined to a 4’ x 4’ stage, one performed after another.

In the right hands (or under the right feet) constraints so tight can become a secret recipe, and they turn into a gimmick with the wrong ones. That magic can pivot on the potential futility of limitation. Before each act on Saturday night at TBA, you could feel the audience wagering whether that futility would transform into a special flavor of freedom or weigh heavily on the performance until its short life was extinguished.

Two of the most notable moments of transformation came from the performers being pushed—or pushing themselves—into even tighter corners than the tiny stage did. In each case, it sent them all the way around the cycle again to the point where they ended up using the entire audience, which felt a little like cheating, but no one cared given the fun they were having.

Two other acts with the same approach failed to convince this reviewer. Miguel Gutierrez’s palpable nervousness set his beatbox loops just off the beat enough to mar his otherwise sweetly-weird, weirdly-soulful time on the tiny stage, and Carlos Gonzalez’s diffuse piece read like a hasty gumbo of the favorite ingredients of post-suburban art-school performance that favors awkwardness and lo-fi potshots at the sort of stuff that lends a bit of alienation to an otherwise comfortable American-intellectual reference point,like sports or corporate culture. By contrast, Okwui Okpokwasili, ground out a sultry, writhing few minutes without having to use much of the already stingy platform or any props besides her rich voice and undiluted physicality, raising the temperature in the room like a sweltering ember at its center.

Notable also was Hana Erdman’s simple, idyllic time on stage with a baby goat (who unfortunately was ready to leave the spotlight before Erdman was). The banjo accompaniment by Daniel Aguilar rang into the stillness with a soft startle, perfectly matched to the hay-scented feel of the piece. Still, the two biggest, most fun surprises (going by numbers on both those superlatives) were from the last two acts and their extra restrictions.

Ninth of the ten acts, Julie Phelps started off with a brief, well-executed and ironic confrontation between diva presence and a tiny, tiny stage. After a thrashing striptease,  Phelps delivered a monologue about how much had gone wrong on her way to the stage, which would have rambled far too long if she hadn’t followed it with the biggest spectacle of the night. But she did, and it worked as skillful misdirection of tone, again leveraging the awkwardness of her situation. She announced that instead of her planned piece, the audience was going to dance a Snowball—switching partners every time she announced “Snowball.” Starting with her collaborator and one audience member, the number of dancers doubled in size with each call out until the whole auditorium was dancing.

After the heady, happy moment faded, Keith Hennessy took the stage with Empress Jupiter and said what everyone was thinking—“I feel fucked. That should have been the last one.”

Plowing right into the awkwardness of it (in a piece titled “Awkward”), he upped the stakes first by announcing that he would perform from the top of a tinier stage still—the silver-dollar-sized mouth of a 5-gallon water jug—and then by breaking a TTD record. The record for the most of people on the tiny stage was 12, so he demanded 15. The energy in the room was still high from the Snowball, so eager volunteers rushed the stage. Empress Jupiter anchored the human pile with a happy, wide grin, and the stage held up while the record shattered. In case anyone still doubted his mettle, Hennessey put the night to bed by doing a headstand on the top of the jug.

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