High Desert Museum Creations of Spirit Bend Oregon

Ten Tiny Dances, great big steps

On a warm day in Beaverton, all sorts of dancers stepped out to perform on the Tiny Stage – and the effect was big. A photo essay by Joe Cantrell.


Ritual Azteca Huitzilopochtli at Ten Tiny Dances in Beaverton on Saturday.


In and around Portland, Ten Tiny Dances is, well, a pretty big thing, with a dedicated core of enthusiastic fans and more joining the crowd with every performance.

Conceived and kicked into action several years ago by the dancemaker Mike Barber, its rules are both fiendishly stern and surprisingly open to a wealth of interpretation. You get a four foot by four foot platform, which is your stage. You can do a solo show, or squeeze as many performers into the space as you want. Musicians are allowed off to the side, and sometimes performers circle the stage from outside, but always in contact with it. You keep your performance short, because, after all, there are nine other dances to be performed. And once you’re inside those sixteen square feet, what happens is pretty much up to your skills and imagination. It’s a little like writing a haiku or a rhymed couplet: The beauty, and the challenge, lie in the restrictions, and finding ways to make them work for you instead of against you.

The most recent version of Ten Tiny Dances took to its tiny stage at City Park in Beaverton on Saturday, July 9, to an appreciative weekend crowd of onlookers. Photographer Joe Cantrell was on hand to capture the action for ArtsWatch.


Ritual Azteca Huitzilopochtli

The troupe of Aztecan dancers, which includes musicians and both adult and child performers, danced in celebration of the Aztec year 10-Tochtli, or the Year of the Rabbit. The Tochtli dance has been handed down over centuries in Indigenous Mexican communities.


Jess Zoller

The modern contemporary troupe performed “The Movers,” a “meditation on possibilities, chance, perception, and obsession with staying busy.” The audience got pulled into the action, too.


Donna Mation and Face King

Joining forces on the Tiny Stage were Afro-Cuban, hip hop, popping, and rhumba dancer Donna Mation and Ghanaian Afro-contemporary dancer Bernard Okuleh Tetta, a.k.a. Face King.


Akela Jaffi

In her solo “Urban Flow,” Akela Jaffi performed wearing several skirts, playing with “the concept of being a bound woman, exploring the different layers of masks or characters played in the world as a woman, and particularly a Black woman. … This time, the skirts will operate as character pieces, intended to show the magnitude of personality held in one, well-composed woman.”


Kayla Pylis, Reed Souther, Rebecca Chadd

Pylis, of Freedom Dance Company, and Souther, of Eugene Ballet, brought a touch of old-fashioned yet contemporary style to the Tiny Stage in choreographer Chadd’s playful ode to her grandparents’ meeting and falling in love. The dance was set to a recording of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong singing George Gershwin’s “Summertime.”


Sweta Ravisankar & Sarada Kala Nilayam

The adult classical Indian dancers of Sweta Ravisankar and the young dancers of Sarada Kala Nilayam performed to a song in the Tamil language that translates, in part, to “the beauty of dance itself so beautiful.” Their focus was “to interact with the public and spread moments of joy amidst so many other gloomy events around the world.”


Bunkerfoot Studio

Dancer Tracy Broyles performed “a composite reconciliation prayer” to music by Adrian Hutapea, with direction and design by Meshi Chavez.


Painted Sky Northstar Dance Company

“We come from Reserves, we come from Reservations, we are Urban, we are Intertribal, we are Native Americans,” the company declares. Veterans of many Ten Tiny Dances shows, Painted Sky’s members blend music, dance, and storytelling into their performances.



The contemporary dancers in the Portland company pushed, folded, circled, leaned, fell, caught, piled on, and more. pushFOLD photos by Samuel Hobbs.


Cascadia Composers A Ligeti Odyssey The Old Madeleine Church Portland Oregon

After the dance was over …

How do you end a day of Ten Tiny Dancing? For many of the performers, a commemorative group photo seemed just the ticket – and Rebecca Benoit of the Beaverton Arts Commission was happy to snap the shot.

I spent my first 21 years in Tahlequah, Cherokee County, Oklahoma, assuming that except for a few unfortunate spots, ‘everybody’ was part Cherokee, and son of the soil. Volunteered for Vietnam because that’s what we did. After two stints, hoping to gain insight, perhaps do something constructive, I spent the next 16 years as a photojournalist in Asia, living much like the lower income urban peasants and learning a lot. Moved back to the USA in 1986, tried photojournalism and found that the most important subjects were football and basketball, never mind humankind. In 1992, age 46, I became single dad of my 3-year-old daughter and spent the next two decades working regular jobs, at which I was not very good, to keep a roof over our heads, but we made it. She’s retail sales supervisor for Sony, Los Angeles. Wowee! The VA finally acknowledged that the war had affected me badly and gave me a disability pension. I regard that as a stipend for continuing to serve humanity as I can, to use my abilities to facilitate insight and awareness, so I shoot a lot of volunteer stuff for worthy institutions and do artistic/scientific work from our Cherokee perspective well into many nights. Come along!


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