September 12th, 2011 8:40 pm | by BRETT CAMPBELL Arts & Books | Posted In: Dance

TBA Diary: Ten Tiny Dances

ten tiny dances 2011Photo by Wayne Bund
TBA's annual late-night Ten Tiny Dances show didn’t get going till after 11 pm this year, but was worth the wait. This was a greatest hits show reprising earlier 10TD performances, all of which force the choreographers and dancers to use a small stage and a short time slot. Danielle Ross’ opening dance was further constrained by a virtual cage of bright green beams, and every time she touched one, percussive sounds (incuding breaking glass samples) would follow. (The striking sound was designed by Christi Denton, whose Electrogals ensemble has a big show coming up next month.) Impressive music, by veteran Portland electronic theater composer Heather Perkins, also accompanied Reed College choreographer Carla Mann and Jim McGinn’s gorgeous duet. 

Another duet featured 10TD founder Mike Barber and veteran Portland (now, sadly, moved to New Mexico) choreographer Cydney Wilkes, in matching tube dresses that became peelable props, in a romp involving innumerable clever moves, occasional gnawing (like tussling with a frisky cat), slow motion sequences and, best of all, their wonderfully theatrical expressions. Watching both of these terrific artists over the years, I’ve really come to appreciate their facial nuances (especially Wilkes, whose knowing visage seems to barely change yet nevertheless suggests as much as her equally subtle body movements) as much as their divine dancing. Despite its lightweight ideas, this was certainly one of the most fun—and funniest—dances I’ve seen at TBA. Wilkes’s departure is a great loss for Portland’s arts scene; I hope she returns often.

Kemumaki Yoko’s new No Nukes solo put the business-attired dancer/choreographer in robotic mechanical doll mode as she was buffeted by increasingly frenzied unseen forces punctuated by a strobe. Given the title, a reference to recent events is likely. Another solo, by Portland’s Philippe Bronchstein (who also composed the score) also used minimal space and some intentionally stiff gestures, linked by smoother, slow passages. Yukio Suzuki (whose Offsite Dance Projects performs later in the festival) also projected almost disturbing inner tension in his black-and-white solo, maybe thanks to his butoh background. Portland Taiko’s potent live music (cheating the space requirement a bit by being set up around the stage), which included violin, energized the small ensemble’s characteristically energetic and precisely timed dance and drum sequences.

A forgettable series of short interludes called Fanmail, involving a Warhol-like figure cavorting with a Marilyn Monroe imitator, added little, as did Taylor Mac’s burlesquey strip. But the concluding sequence, featuring tEEth’s typically funny/spooky Splinter, certainly did. When I saw this shattering performance at TBA in 2006, it was my first exposure to the Portland group’s unique, oblique aesthetic. At the time, it seemed an absolutely perfect send up of everything  you hate about pretentious performance art. I mean, who wouldn’t want to take an axe to the stage to some of those warbling Meredith Monk imitators? It was one of my most memorable early Portland art experiences. For some reason, maybe because I knew what was coming, this time the impact felt muted. It’s always fascinating to watch the audiences at tEEth shows, which often present material that seems superficially funny but turns out to be disturbing (drawing nervous laughter, as in Carla Mann’s demented spasms and howls here), while stuff that at first looks creepy turns out to be pretty funny, at least to me. I love the way Angelle Hebert’s choreography and Philip Kraft’s music combine to push those tense boundaries. Their upcoming TBA feature, which I saw in earlier performances this summer, is one of the most powerful dances I’ve ever seen here, and should on no account be missed.

SEE IT: PICA’s ninth Time-Based Art festival continues through Sept. 18.

Brett Campbell is Willamette Week's classical music editor.

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