They call it everyone's favorite. Saturday night confirmed that: the Works was packed last night for Ten Tiny Dances (now in its tenth anniversary). If you could endure the long and annoying wait for the show to start, you’ll agree, it will probably be a standout of this year’s TBA—amazing in how a small platform can “snowball” (more on that later) into something immersive and transformative. And, as we've said before, it's a welcome reprieve from some of the more challenging, feature-length works at the festival.

Julie Phelps and the snowball effect.
  • PICA/GK Wilson
  • Julie Phelps and the snowball effect.

Most likely, since you’re following TBA, you know the premise of Ten Tiny Dances: five-to-10 minute dances designed by 10 different folks for a square, 4’x4’ platform. The spatial constraint serves as a catalyst for creativity. Last night’s performance showcased a huge range of solutions to the constraint, from improvisatory to rehearsed, from silly to serious, from introspective solos to a stripshow-turned-all-inclusive dance party. Also, a kid goat (eh? See: Hana Erdman).

Some highlights: New-York based performer Miguel Gutierrez, singing "Push It," donning white warrior paint below his eyes, and a long-sleeved onesie buttoned at the crotch—his legs bare and capped with shimmery green tennies. Gutierrez began by looping his voice and a percussive thigh slap, creating a build up that formed the Salt-n-Pepa classic. It was a goofy start that ended with a touching finish, after Guiterrez distorted his loops and recordings, breaking them down, and dissolving them into a gentle, vulnerable crooning on the mike. Gutierrez, no stranger to TBA, will perform his final solo performance tonight (check out our review, here).

By contrast, Portland dance veteran Linda K. Johnson offered a chillingly memorable experience in collaboration with sound artist Tim DuRoche. Johnson began the piece seated, quiet, innocuously sipping from a cup; eerie sounds followed. Gunshots ring out, and Johnson slides below the platform—we can only see her via the live stream of projection on the big screen—a camera films her below the platform, we hear her heavy breathing as she takes cover from the sound. Relying similarly heavy on sound was Renee Sills, in collaboration with Christi Denton and Heather Perkins. Sills appeared on stage, mostly bare, but for some wires and sensors that translated her movements into sound, with drones and hums that reverberated throughout the auditorium, that caught you in a confusing loop of the senses—in a constant effort to reconcile what you were seeing and what you were hearing, matched to how Sills was moving, creating a trippy mind game of cause and effect.

Keith Hennessy concluded the night with a shirtless balancing act on a water jug—sounds ridiculous and dumb, i.e. fun—especially given the blunt presence of Hennessy’s 6-foot-something friend, Empress Jupiter, in the center of the stage. (Fun fact: Hennessy brought a record-breaking number of people, 15—13 of which were culled from the audience—onto the show’s tiny stage.)

Keith Hennessy and Empress Jupiter, filling the stage
  • PICA Press Corps
  • Keith Hennessy and Empress Jupiter, doing...whatever it is they're doing

He began his piece notably, making the announcement: “Basically, right now I feel fucked. That last piece should have been the last piece.” True story. And a reference to the stripdown that became a giant slow dance, instigated by Julie Phelps (who herself has studied with Hennessy). As collaborator Ellie Cameron played percussion, Phelps did a freakout dance/stripdown, then, pausing, realizing she has stripped to her undies in front of a captive audience, she gets on the microphone. She talks about how vulnerable she is, being half-naked, yadda yadda, and how she wants the audience to "make love" with each other. Phelps asks for an audience member to dance with her collaborator Cameron; when she says “snowball,” the two of them have to pull a new dance partner from the audience. This dominoes. Pretty soon, there I was, slow-dancing with the dude that was sitting next to me. As was everyone else, elbow-to-elbow, on the floor, making that tiny dance a whole lot bigger.