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Ten Tiny Dances: The Beauty of Restrictions

“Ten tiny dancers on a platform” is how my companion referred to the show in a slip of the tongue. And as intriguing as the image sounds, the reality of Ten Tiny Dances is even better: ten jewels of dance, each between five and eight minutes long, performed on a 4’ by 4’ platform. Ten Tiny Dances is an event format created by and produced in agreement with Mike Barber. Dozens of TTD events have happened across the country, the format allowing for performances in venues ranging from traditional theaters to restaurants to parks. The genius of the idea is how the restrictions of the performance act to generate honed and focused distillations of dance. The buzz about the quality performances the event generates has also spread: after selling out all shows, Velocity Dance Center added a 10PM Saturday show, allowing a few more lucky people to experience this exceptional event.

Sarah Paul Ocampo and Aaron Huffman in Echo Park Photo by Kate Hailey
Sarah Paul Ocampo and Aaron Huffman in Echo Park
Photo by Kate Hailey

Just walking into Founders Theater at Velocity generated anticipation. The platform, dwarfed by the rows of seats beginning just a couple feet away, seems an impossibly small performance space. How can anything be choreographed for that small a stage? How do the performers not fall off? Additionally, the platform was pre-set for the first piece with an electric guitar, stool, and microphone. Where would the people fit?

In Echo Park, Sarah Paul Ocampo presided on the stool, singing sultrily into her microphone, as her joint performer/choreographer/composer Aaron Huffman took up the electric guitar. Ocampo, and by necessity Huffman also, managed an impressive range of movement from the stool, from rotating on it, to high leg extensions, to small and detailed hand gestures. She and Huffman fit together like moving jigsaw pieces.

Kathryn Padberg performed Open Circuit, co-choreographed by herself and Crispin Spaeth, and took a more traditionally “dancey” approach to the format. She danced with full body movement and gooey weightedness, alternately gathering space into herself and sending it back out. She went to the edges of the platform, feet slightly hanging off at times, challenging the limits of her environs. Her expansiveness made the performance space itself look larger.

Claire Mitchell in Element Photo by Kate Hailey
Claire Mitchell in Element
Photo by Kate Hailey

Element was similarly dance-intense. Both Kokou Gbakenou and Claire Mitchell were listed as choreographers, and they traded off as performers. Saturday evening, Mitchell started seated, torso gyrating in place, gathering energy and power until she could no longer be contained. Her movement grew until she was flying through impressive feats of athletic daring.

Dayna Hanson’s solo study: y(x) was an engrossing change of pace. Chewing gum, wearing a long white button down shirt, red knee socks, sparkly heels, and a messy topknot, she gave a tutorial on detailed subtlety in performance. Deep in a reverie, she tried out different movements and maintained a constant accompaniment with the tapping and shuffling of her feet. Perhaps she was attempting to remember long-forgotten choreography, or testing steps for effect in a piece yet to come. Her persona was restless, not quite comfortable in her own skin, not quite dissatisfied either, but inhabiting a complex in-betweenness. Rather than pushing out into the space, she drew the audience in.

Dayna Hanson in solo study: y(x)  Photo by Kate Hailey
Dayna Hanson in solo study: y(x)
Photo by Kate Hailey

Diana Cardiff finished the first half with Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft, a delightfully humorous vignette. As the song of the same name played, she displayed a fiber optic light like a holy object, made herself a tinfoil helmet, and brandished a light saber. She matched her dancing sometimes to specific words in the song, to hilarious effect, and sometimes to its broader pop music nature. Her dead-earnest expression alone was enough to provoke laughter.

Where Do I Come From? choreographed by Wade Madsen and Alia Swersky, and performed by Swersky, took the challenge of the space, and raised it exponentially. Madsen constructed a box-like frame to surround the platform, and ran an illuminated cable diagonally through the space. Swersky danced around the cable, rippling and oozing through her enclosure while carefully avoiding the cable. She indicated points along it, naming the start point, the end point, the beginning and end of her life, where she is now, where she fell out of a tree, the many points of regrets. Her speech and dancing layered the micro and macro, personal and universal, in a dense, fascinating way.

Jenny Peterson’s Chimera ambitiously crammed three dancers onto the platform (Kaitlin McCarthy, Annie McGhee, and Peterson). It was a wonderful puzzle beforehand to try to figure out how they would manage it, and the answer was even better. To the challenge of the limited space they added the challenge of being attached, wearing a single garment made of three sewn-together dresses. This bizarre creature gleefully wriggled through the difficulties of standing up, sitting down, changing direction while reclining, partnering, and more. Their faces were constantly in motion, mischievous and weird. As the audience gasped in surprise, they ended by messily devouring a cinnamon roll, and I wondered if I was worried or hopeful that these depraved conjoined triplets would kidnap me into their world.

Echo Norris in Kristina Dillard's Cakemenco Photo by Kate Hailey
Echo Norris in Kristina Dillard’s Cakemenco
Photo by Kate Hailey

Julia Child’s voice repeating “the best chocolate cake you ever put in your mouth! Butter…chocolate…sugar…rum!” was a very appropriate accompaniment for the lush sensuousness of Echo Norris’ dancing in Cakemenco, choreographed by Kristina Dillard. In a Spanish-styled black bustier and full skirt with red highlights, Norris whirled and stomped and luxuriated her way through the flamenco-inspired choreography. The intimacy of the space highlighted the details of her confident, sexy performance, and left you wanting more. And wanting some chocolate cake.

Mark Haim, like Dayna Hanson, displayed the performance skill and subtlety of experience. In his HAIKU, Haim started by dancing with intriguing gestural specificity in dim atmospheric lighting, the silence punctuated by snatches of familiar pop songs. Meanwhile, Koushik Ghosh was curled up at his feet, apparently asleep. As the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t it be Nice” started to play, it became a bright sunny day, they pulled off their pants to reveal wild swimming trunks, grabbed sunglasses and books out of their beachbag (Sudoku for Haim, Ian Hacking’s The Taming of Chance for Ghosh), and settled in for a nice relaxing day on the water. Was it all a dream? If so, which half, and whose dream? And what did they have left in their not-yet-empty beachbag?

Douglas Ridings in Pankaj Charan Das' Vadya Pallavi Photo by Kate Hailey
Douglas Ridings in Pankaj Charan Das’ Vadya Pallavi
Photo by Kate Hailey

The evening closed with Vadya Pallavi, choreographed by Pankaj Charan Das and adapted and performed by Douglas Ridings. This solo in traditional Odissi style was a refreshing change from the rest of the program. The intimate space was the ideal way to see this, as Ridings’ slight—but significant—eye movements, gestures, and changes of expression were easily seen. You could even catch a hint of incense wafting from his costume as he moved. Here the small space enhanced rather than constrained his movement.

It has been said that behind every great writer there is a great editor. The realities of art-making don’t often allow choreographers the luxury of editing; it’s hard enough to afford the studio rental to get a piece finished, much less edited and revised. The genius of the Ten Tiny Dances format is that the restrictions act as editor. Even more interestingly, the restrictions become a dance partner. Each work addressed the format’s restrictions, and found a different way to push against, work with, highlight, or obviate them. Ten Tiny Dances showed area choreographers and dancers at some of their best; the only disappointment of the evening was that there were only ten.

Ten Tiny Dances ran February 6-8 at Velocity Dance Center. Previous SeattleDances coverages of Ten Tiny Dances can be found here.