Ten Tiny Dances: Small Stage, Big Idea

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If “art is limitation, and the essence of every picture is the frame,” as the writer G.K. Chesterton once said, then the essence of every dance is the stage. In Ten Tiny Dances, the limitations of that stage are many: performers are on a 4×4-foot platform 18 inches off the ground. All elements of the performance (musicians, projections, and props) must be in this tiny area as well. On top of that, the performance is in the round, and artists must cater to a 360-degree audience from their minimal perch. It is these exact limitations, however, that drew Sara Jinks to Ten Tiny Dances, first as an audience member, then as a performer, and currently as a producer. “The reason I was attracted to it was because of the parameters,” said Jinks. “There’s so much to work around that you can’t fall back on your old habits, so people often crank out unexpected things.” Jinks is producing a Ten Tiny Dances show at Velocity Dance Center this weekend, February 6-8, with a high-powered line-up of local performers. So high-powered, in fact, that all three evenings have already sold out, prompting Jinks to add a fourth show. The additional show is at 10 PM on Saturday, February 7. Tickets are still available here. SeattleDances caught up with Jinks recently to hear more about the performance.

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Cherdonna Shinatra in Ten Tiny Dances at Methow Valley Arts Alliance in 2012
Photo by Teri Pieper

Ten Tiny Dances originated in 2002 in Portland, Oregon, the brainchild of choreographer Mike Barber. The show’s format quickly caught on and has since migrated to many different cities. In order to produce the show elsewhere, however, one must receive permission from Barber and sign a contract to follow the show’s parameters. “The form is pretty precise,” comments Jinks. “There’s a list of rules of engagement, which I love.” Ten Tiny Dances first came to Seattle when local choreographer Crispin Spaeth asked Barber to co-produce a performance as a two-city exchange—half Seattle artists and half Portland artists. After that, Spaeth went on to produce seven more Ten Tiny’s in Seattle, one on Orcas Island, and one with Jinks as a co-producer in the Methow Valley. Jinks loved the experience of co-producing and, upon returning to Seattle this past year, approached Spaeth about doing another show here in Seattle. Spaeth wasn’t up for producing this time around (although she will perform in the show), and passed the production baton to Jinks.

 

Having been involved in Ten Tiny in many roles, Jinks understood the difficulties that come with this particular format. Lighting can be problematic, creating good sight lines in the round is a challenge—not to mention the logistical difficulty of putting multiple people on such a small platform. But these obstacles are also what facilitate the magic of Ten Tiny. Jinks notes that with such a small stage, “there’s an element of risk involved [as a performer] which makes for a heightened experience. If you’re on a raised stage, you don’t really want to go within two feet of the edge. There’s that discomfort. Here, the whole the thing is edge.” And because the audience surrounds the stage, performers don’t have the safety proscenium behind them a proscenium offers. “Suddenly you have to project 360 degrees, so people perform differently,” says Jinks.

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Sara Jinks in a Pat Graney piece in Ten Tiny Dances
at Methow Valley Arts Alliance in 2012
Photo by Teri Pieper

Another performance constraint is the time limit. Each piece must be between five and eight minutes; they’re meant to be short and sweet. “It’s sort of a smorgasbord of dance, because they’re these little bites,” says Jinks. “You might love one and not like the next, but then there’s another one that follows.” This variety is particularly true of the line-up Jinks has whipped together. Though it includes several local luminaries that need no introduction—Wade Madsen, Dayna Hanson, and Mark Haim among them—Jinks strove to mix the line-up with younger up-and-comers like Jenny Peterson and Claire Mitchell, as well as performers outside of contemporary dance. Tonya Lockyer, Velocity’s Artistic Director, pointed Jinks in the direction of Douglas Ridings, a well-known yoga teacher and Odissi dancer, as well as Kokou Gbakenou, a skilled contemporary African dance performer.

 

Jinks is most excited about the diversity this line-up offers. “The variety is great. There’s a nice balance, and there’s something in it for everybody.” A few that she’s particularly looking forward to are Sarah Paul Ocampo’s work and Riding’s Odissi performance. Ocampo’s movement is minimal, but she will be singing her own music live on stage accompanied by a guitarist—she’s a singer/songwriter as well as a dancer. “They’re doing this kind of indie-singer songwriter thing with amps and a guitar and cords. It’s totally choreographed and it’s gorgeous. It’s completely different than anything else,” Jinks remarks. Riding’s Odissi piece sounds like a tiny treasure in and of itself. His work “is so joyful and beautiful,” says Jinks. “To have that up against the very serious, dance-y, contemporary dance is very nice.”

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Juliet Waller Pruzan in a Crispin Spaeth piece in Ten Tiny Dances
at Methow Valley Arts Alliance in 2012
Photo by Teri Pieper

While the stage-space may be shrunken, there’s no limit to the artists’ creativity. “From my experience watching this thing unfold,” Jinks muses, “I think the parameters free people of pattern.” It’ll certainly be a treat to see what emerges as these ten choreographers break their patterns this weekend. You’re in luck if you’ve already got tickets, but if not, hurry while there are still some left. This will surely prove a show you don’t want to miss.

More information about the Ten Tiny format can be found here.