Still mighty and Tiny after all these years

Ten Tiny Dances continues to inspire, provoke and amuse 13 years later

Thirteen years into Ten Tiny Dances, the dare of choreographing for a stage four feet on a side continues to draw experimentation out of the performers who step up to the challenge. The variations at TBA:15 Works again delivered surprises, stumbles, and intensity. Founder Mike Barber kicked the night off with a triumphant parade of the night’s performers with a good bit of boxing-ring bluster. There was a good-natured swagger to this intro that felt mature in a way, a comfortable bravado that comes from doing something weird quite well for more than a decade.

Keith Hennessy’s first performance starred a little girl who entered the stage with a sassy, confident visual gag. She stood to be measured by Hennessy, and then to prove that she was exactly four feet tall, she then measured the edges of the stage with her own body. Running off into the wings, she returned riding a sort of glittery palanquin composed of three adults under a shimmering, gold sequined and bedazzled sheet, hyping the crowd to the tune of Beyonce’s Run the World (Girls). The four of them definitely floundered a little to get her postures and positioning right, but it was hard to care with how infectiously charismatic this little girl was, riding like a queen on this giant shimmering alien-camel-thing.

Ten Tiny Dances in a previous incarnation. Photo by Chelsea Petrakis

Ten Tiny Dances in a previous incarnation. Photo by Chelsea Petrakis

Choreographer Wade Madsen followed with a McLuhan-esque tromp through a landscape of audio samples. He set himself up as a sort of marionette to the sound, and when his gestures and expressions lined up with the frenetic score, it worked.

Subashini Ganesan was third, with one of the riskier performances. She quoted traditional Indian dance and packed in references to personal history and, as we can infer with a little squinting into the show notes, the experience of diaspora. It was clear she had much to say and a serious eye on the material, but it seemed very much like a longer work meant for a regular stage, and the dance relied on props and signs that broke with the tone to cover all the ground it wanted to. One of the performances that did not seem to absorb the smallness of the stage and the moment.

11: dance co managed to work six people, a sort of flapper-aesthetic, and disquieting gender dynamics into the tiny space. There’s a sort of auction-block feeling to the tiny stage surrounded on all sides by the audience, and their performance, The Tinas, really worked that angle. Three men, with three different flavors of old-fashioned male entitlement, paraded three women in negligees and stockings onto the stage and commanded them with both direct gestures and dominant body language. We were given a short slice of this world, a brief glimpse below their negligees, and then it was done, with no relief offered for the conflict we may have felt about our gaze as an audience complicit in the very rapey-feeling dynamics. So, a pretty hard hit for a short, tiny dance.

James Healey took advantage of the airspace above the stage by hanging a mirrored cube full of blue ink over it. Dusted up like a warboy from Fury Road, he writhed under the steady drip with the lights lowered. This looked great and gave him something to react to. I would have liked to see the setup taken further, incorporate some changes more than Healey simply being covered in more ink at the end than he was at the start. Still, a worthy experiment for the tiny dance lab.

Michelle Ellsworth broke form entirely and brought a nervy, entertaining, lightning-paced send up of TED talks and PowerPoint culture that was more of a tour through her portfolio than a dance. However, since her work often incorporated small spaces and acting as the focal point of surveillance or observation, she was able to own the space of the tiny stage with a steady and somewhat frantic set of gestures and pacing that did a good job of linking her presence as a performer in the room to the video clips on the projector of her darkly funny experiments, installations, and constructions. Some of them were on display at the Works for the audience to enjoy, though they were surprisingly un-polished and rickety for installations at a festival the size of TBA. Overall, a highly entertaining and unexpected use of the time, presented with virtuosic public-speaking chops that traded well on the nervy undertones of Ten Tiny Dances’ performative AD-HD.

sub.set dance followed with record-scratching shift in tone. Deadpan and dead serious, the four dancers never seemed to take the confines of the format with the same seriousness they were telegraphing about their movements. As much off the stage as they were on it, I couldn’t find a handle to get into this one.

Vincent Michael Lopez followed with a hot, writhing, dense performance of a type that is my favorite sort of thing that comes out of Ten Tiny Dances. The performers costar with the format, and half the fun is seeing what they come up with, but, having seen this a few times now, I think my favorites are the ones that pack it in, compress their performance to something dense and breathtaking, and just dance hard in this small space. The dialogue with format and boundaries that TTD provides is almost a public service announcement for experimentation, for which I’m grateful. But I also just love seeing the short, intense dance that it sometimes inspires. If Lopez’s piece had been long enough to analyze aesthetically, it wouldn’t have have been so intense. A shot of straight whisky, but a good one.

Portland’s Jen Hackworth ended the show with a clever dialogue engaging the potent blend of vulnerability and pressure that TTD seems to produce. Rolling out own her red carpet, she entered with a fighter’s bombast, nicely book-ending the little girl’s entry in Hennessy’s opener. Her mood and movements transformed when she made it onto the tiny stage. The contemplative awkwardness she’d explored in previous work felt touching and apt on the little stage, and her triumphant exit gave the night a wry smile to end on.

(Tenth, or first, was an offstage looped video and sound installation by Dawn Stoppiello which was, while I was there, not accessible but may continue to be on view at the Works.)

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