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A Much Overdue Review of the Most Romantic Night Ever

Written by Kristen Legg
Velocity Dance Center and Spaeth Projects presented the latest Seattle installment of Ten Tiny Dances March 11-13, 2011.  Although called Ten Tiny (valentines) Dances, nothing in this title held true for this particular performance.  First off, there were eleven works in Sunday evening’s show not ten.    Secondly, while all of the works took place mainly on a tiny 4-by-4 foot stage, with giant brides and larger-than-life panda heads, this show was anything but tiny.  The Valentines aspect of the evening was touch and go.  Some works were brimming with romance while others seemed to tell of the painful, ugly side of love.  Then there were some works that seemed to miss the mark.  Finally, the term dance could be used loosely on some of the pieces.  In fact, one work was labeled as “a tiny musical extension” and, while incorporating stage blocking, was really just a 19th century song with guitars.
However deceiving the title of the festival may have seemed, it was still quite an entertaining evening.  Set up as theatre-in the-round, the eleven works featured were all unique and varying. 

Beth Graczyk and Corrie Befort of Salt Horse presented an enthralling duet entitled Ziggurat.  As the audience entered the theatre, a mound of fabric covered the small dance space.  When the performance began, Befort emerged from the fabric, revealing a wedding dress over eight feet tall.  As her own ziggurat, she twitched and rotated on the small stage, presumably being lifted under her dress by Grazcyk.  The human temple collapsed and Grazcyk emerged bare-breasted and wearing a tiger mask.  Her powerful movements were heightened when she turned to face other sides of the audience.  Her strong back and full-bodied, active use of space filled the theatre.  The two dancers then performed a simple, yet touching duet of developing gestures.
Kristin Hapke of tindance collaborated with dancer Alia Swersky on an undulating floor work, remnants, that explored the small space and all the ways each body part could move through the space.  While Swersky’s amazing back mobility and beautifully contorted lines were fascinating to watch, the overall work lacked development.  One beautiful moment came early in the piece when Swersky lay perched on her side at the corner of the platform, dangling over the edge.
The Sho director, Michael Rioux, presented a theatrical work entitled Goodbye/You’reForgiven/
I’mPretendingToBeYou, which did not seem to have anything to do with the title.  Dancer Danielle Hammer, came on to the small platform in light, carrying a wig and sunglasses.  Dressed in men’s underwear, she stood stoic as a racially-charged rap was heard.  Hammer then donned the blond wig and aviator sunglasses and proceeded to perform a deadpan work to dynamic music created by Rioux.  While the intention of the work may have been lost, Rioux’s fluid choreography always seems “right.”  His ability to move bodies in ways that seem natural without being predictable is quite astounding.
Throughout the show, many dancers used dialogue.  Sadly, whether it was the non-acoustical space or the performers at fault, their words were difficult to hear, which meant that a great deal of meaning was lost.  Danya Hanson’s No Harm was one of these works.  Starting out with a theatrical monologue, Hanson portrayed a secretary at the end of her work day.  Beyond that, it is hard to say what the artist was trying to say.  As the work progressed she began to move, but Hanson’s performance was disconnected and her choreography pedestrian.    
Marissa Rae Niederhauser performed a solo work entitled Shipwrecked/Hellbent.  Dripping wet and sobbing on the ground, Niederhauser flailed and writhed on the floor while slowly rotating.  Shipwrecked/Hellbent seemed to be a retrograde of a terrible evening at the club, as Niederhauser slowly rose and changed her tweaked out movement to simple club dancing.  What was most powerful about this work was the music edit (although the mastermind behind it went unnamed in the program).  The work progressed through warped meldings of popular music including Eminem and Baby Bash, and ended with a 1950s style dance tune—Niederhauser swaying with the band.
The most daring work of the evening was Ten Tiny Dances creator Mike Barber’s Stockholm, a look at his love/hate relationship with the small stage.  Here the audience finally got to see all the bold movement that can be performed in a small space, as well as the exciting, “out of the box” ways the stage can be used.  Although Barber did leave the platform, which is a bit of a no-no, he leapt from one side of the performance area to the other, often just barely making it onto the platform.  Barber took the work even further by turning the platform on end, spinning the platform, and exploring every surface of the square.  Finally, the platform slowly collapsed on top of him, caging him in and reminding everyone to love thy captor.
Next came the pandas.  Stimulate Dance’s Allegra Searle-LeBell and Emma Klien preformed Please Do Not Feed the Artists, a satirical look at the starving artist.  Dressed in giant panda costumes, the pirouette-ing bears performed stereotypical jazz moves while reciting rhymes on saving the dancers.  Picking up baskets they hurled packages of gummybears at the audience.  (Somewhat painful.)  And then they took off the panda suits, leaving just the panda head, lingerie, and gold, tasseled chaps…   Love is a many splendid thing.
Spectrum Dance Theater’s Academy Ensemble presented a sweet, innocent duet that displayed the flexibility of young dancer Sarah Poppe and less-flexible Michah St. Kitts.  While the work lacked the wham-bam dancing Spectrum is known for, there were some lovely vignettes depicting young love.
Crispin Spaeth’s work, Bad Aim, was the only work with a truly Valentine theme.  Dancer Stephen Hando thrashed about the tiny space trying to remove an arrow from his back, assumedly from Cupid’s bow.  This unloving man reached, twisted, and struggled to no avail.  Sadly, just as the work was leaving that over-the-top, cheesy place and finally delving into something deeper, the work ended. 
The final work of the evening was Haruko Nishimura’s Untitled. With her beautiful hybrid of Butoh and modern dance, Nishimura captivated the audience, wrapping yarn, brining objects and memories to her heart, and transitioning seamlessly from standing to sitting.  It had been raining all night, but as the lights faded at the end of this enthralling work, the rain hitting the overhead skylights made for the most romantic moment of the evening.
Well, second most romantic moment.  Earlier in the evening, SANDSTROMMOVEMENT presented their musical extension, “the Decline.”  A beautifully performed duet for guitar and voice, Ellie Sandstrom and partner Chad Beieler walked in a circle while singing “Banks of the Ohio.”  While not dance by definition, all was forgiven when Sandstrom ended their performance with a proposal.  In front of family, friends, and the rest of the audience, Sandstrom announced that she had been with Beibler for 12 years and that she really wanted him to be her husband.  He said yes.