10 TINY AT ON THE BOARDS

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How can artists use spatial limitations as an advantage to create transcendent performances? Founded by Mike Barber in 2002, Ten Tiny Dances® is a performance series that challenges ten artists to present works on a 4 by 4 foot stage, viewed in the round. This iteration of the series, held at On The Boards and co-produced by Sara Jinks, features works that stand out for innovative movement choices and virtuosity that extends well beyond the small stage.

Image from a previous 10 Tiny Dances performance. Photo by Kate Haley.

Michael “Majinn” O’Neal’s solo Sorceress incorporates both hip hop and contemporary styles. Majinn’s bio expresses that he “aims to help people become more confident in their bodies […] as well as to give back to the communities that these street/club style dance forms were created from.” This confidence and generosity is present in the work as Majinn moves through fully-embodied undulations, rhythmic footwork, and soft moments of symbolism, such as a fist held to his chest. One of the most notable components of Sorceress is how the hip-hop floorwork incorporates directional changes in order to stay on the stage, arranging elements of floorwork in a way that both holds the integrity of the form and challenges the patterns of it.

Choreographer and performer KT Niehoff slowly convinces eleven audience members to join her on the tiny stage, at which point she announces “Now I’m going to squeeze in.” After shuffling into the middle of the group she admits that, even though it’s now awkward, she doesn’t think she can do it. While apologizing to each audience member, she disbands the group back to their seats. She then checks out, listening to music through airpods while aggressive music bleeds through the theater’s speakers that sounds like someone playing drums with road rage. Niehoff sequentially bops and crumbles to a beat we cannot hear. Weighed down, she places a hand on her chest and leaves the stage. Ode To Depression (And The State Of The World In General) displays a person trying to uphold expectations of the larger group while dealing with an internal world of their own. Niehoff’s performance is frank and unpredictable in the best way.

Image from a previous 10 Tiny Dances performance. Photo by Kate Haley.

Fox Whitney’s We R Goldin is curiously complex. Central to the piece is the motif of stagnant kissing, as performers Will Courtney and Fox Whitney change positions but maintain their sealed kiss. The movement vocabulary ranges from theatrical, synchronized swimming-like leg motions, to fast, flowing contemporary movement that changes levels often. The kissing motif shows up again later in the piece, as Courtney abandons Whitney on stage, and in the climax of a love-ridden pop song, Whitneys stands in stagnant kissing positions, stuck in the embrace of an absent partner. While the music lightens the mood, I felt the heaviness of the dramatic departure from an established partnership. Whitney rotates in another empty embrace, spiraling without holding someone. All the while, Courtney speaks through a megaphone, walking around the perimeter of the space, seeming to direct this text at Whitney but never joining Whitney again on stage. Deep instrumental music with a tone of impending doom fades in and out, and takes over the full soundscape after Courtney leaves. We R Goldin is captivating in its layered exploration of an intricate performative relationship that leaves the audience with a lot to contemplate. 

In No Takebacks, Arson Nicki and Miss Texas 1988 mime along to pre-recorded sounds, mimicking everything from a baseball game to squeezing out ketchup. Efficiently timed, this prolonged miming builds up expectations of comedy. Suddenly, the work changes to extremely seriousness over as one performer mimics shooting the other. The shot dancer drops dead, blood flowing onto their white shirt, inciting an abrupt end to the piece. No Takebacks suggests that even make-believe actions have consequences when it comes to guns, and that this subject is not meant to be made light of. 

I Don’t Wanna Lose This Feeling performed and choreographed by ilvs strauss also employs mimicry alongside pre-recorded sounds. Strauss begins by looking up, removing something imaginary from her pocket, dropping it, listening to it, and then letting it go. This action repeats several times, and the dedication to this repetition with minimal change grows tiring by the third execution of it. I was hoping the reasoning behind this choice would be revealed as the piece built. Instead, strauss went on to imitate more imaginary objects falling from the ceiling and then the piece ends before it truly develops. Though this version of the work was disappointing in its lack of developed content, the solo could be used as a building block for a more comprehensive work.

Image from a previous 10 Tiny Dances performance. Photo by Kate Haley.

Zehli Dance, choreographed and performed by Etienne Cakpo, ends the night on a positive note. Undulating movements in the arms and torso carry this work through, with deep knee bends and frequent changes in dynamics, exploring different polyrhythms. Cakpo specializes in the performance of traditional African dance from Benin, West Africa. His expertise shone, and he did not appear to be limited by the stage size. Zehli Dance is a welcome end to the show, grounded firmly in form. 

This performance also featured Jessica Jobaris & General Magic, Scott/Powell Performance, Vis-à-Vis Society, and Cheryl Delostrinos of Au Collective. Ten Tiny Dances® reiterated the ability of artists to transcend above space confines. As the format for this series hopes, I left with memories of the quality of the works, unlimited by the size of the stage.

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