MLKBallet presented Ten Tiny Dances on Sunday, August 25, as a fundraiser for its tuition-free dance program in Tacoma. Hosted by the full-service nightclub, Jazzbones, the evening was complete with an emcee, a full bar and restaurant, white tablecloths, a pre-show performance by Seattle-based band The Cloves, and a packed house. The accessibility of the performance format was evident in the all-ages audience.
Billed as “an experiment in confined spaces,” Ten Tiny Dances restricted the stage space to a raised four-foot by four-foot platform. The ten and a half works (performance # 5 ½ featured a gloved pair of fingers performing over a miniature light box) included solos, duets, and trios on the compact stage. The overall concept of space, both temporal and physical, became the evening’s focus, independent of each piece’s theme or style of dance. The performance platform sat in the middle of the restaurant tables, creating the need for audience members to peer over and around heads and support pillars. Accompanying the performance soundtracks were noises traditional to a bar: clinking of glassware, humming of small talk, buzzing of a kitchen, and servers swerving through tables. Within this restricted area, choreographers were forced to carve out space and break into the awareness of a potentially distracted audience.
Sure-footed and immediately engaging, performers Tara Dyberg and Hannah Crowley commanded attention in each of their separate pieces. Dyberg’s Chat-Her emphasized her awareness of the setting. Beginning seated, hands cupped like over-sized headphones over her ears, Dyberg danced as if inside a room of mirrors, deliberately creating a fourth wall in a way that gave the appearance of extra space. She was both inviting to the audience (gesturing with the “headphones” to offer the chance to “listen” in), and intentionally unaware. She maintained a performer’s intensity throughout her articulated isolations and small gestures that completed the minute space.
Crowley’s contribution Water Walking showcased the choreographer’s fine muscle control, with her skin radiating a feeling of sentient sensitivity. The piece felt immediately theatrical in quality as Crowley bent the space to her will, subtly overpowering the lights and noise of the nightclub, almost as if employing a personal spotlight. Both Dyberg and Crowley exhibited technical prowess; each made hard work appear effortless as she danced uninhibited by the small stage and the two-foot drop off.
Vincent Michael Lopez and Shadou Mintrone of Spectrum Dance Theater offered two distinct works that anchored the second half of the performance. In Lopez’s Six Eyes of the Sea, three glistening prehistoric creatures (Kyle Bernbach, Cara-May Marcus, and Marissa Quimby) undulated amoeba-like to the music of Bjork. With innate dramatic quality, each performer dove into the choreography, long-limbed and fluid as they rippled through, around, and with one another. Lopez even carved space for three distinct solos. Although Six Eyes occasionally indulged in superfluous extensions, the use of long flowing skirts softened these extremes artfully.
In Mintrone’s Two Part Harmony, With Maestro, dancers Kate Monthy and Lorraine Constantine delivered a mostly deadpan rendition of operatic divas costumed in red and gold lip-synching to Maria Callas as Carmen. Once strapped into a shared over-sized skirt, the divas were joined by the “maestro”—Mintrone herself—who appeared as mustachioed conductor with flashy batons to oversee each diva. Classic comedic one-upmanship included an ever-increasing procession of props including an over-sized flower, tambourine, fan, umbrella, and showers of rose petals. (Comparisons to some portrayals of Mother Ginger in The Nutcracker would be appropriate). Two Part Harmony was abundantly humorous performance art, embodying traditional cabaret styling.
Also of note were Amanda Oie Dance Company’s Inherited Spaces for its impressive intertwining of two bodies like puzzle pieces; Joel Myers’s Madre di Molti, a repeated ballet solo with narration that dealt with negative external and internal feedback as a dancer; and witty images of Atlas Shrugged in Sean B. Cormack’s socio-political commentary, Bad News.
In a performance where venue and dance were inseparable, MLKBallet and Ten Tiny Dances shone a microscopic lens on the process of space in performing arts. The theatre-in-the-round setting forced choreographers to choose focal points in a different way than if on a traditional stage, creating multiple “fronts” for the surrounding audience. Not separated from the audience by distance and darkness, the dancers could see faces upturned or diverted by conversation. In Everything is Contingent, and There is Also Chaos, kt Shores even maintained conversation with the audience to direct manipulation of shared musical technology. Of necessity, some traditional barriers were down, both forcing and inviting an intimacy with the shared experience of art. By doing so, Ten Tiny Dances offered an innovative strategy for MLKBallet to ask for funding to provide free art for children: after such a compelling performance, how could anyone say no?
Find more information at mlkballet.blog.com or tentinydances.org.