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Dance review: 'Ten Tiny Dances' debuts at Samueli Theater

January 21, 2012 |  2:39 pm

Segerstrom Center - Off Center Festival - Ten Tiny Dances - Nigh - Photo by Doug Gifford 007
“Ten Tiny Dances” is the descriptive title for an unusual, smorgasbord-style program started 10 years ago, and it is also the challenge for its participating choreographers: to make a work of extreme brevity (five to eight minutes) on a 4-by-4-foot stage.

The show made its local debut with two performances this weekend at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ Off Center Festival, casting two local participants with veteran Northwest performance artists, including “Ten Tiny’s” Portland, Ore., founder Mike Barber. 

The Samueli Theater was transformed into a cabaret, with the stage in the middle, making for a casual and intimate performance. 

Each dance was a kinetic ink blot test of the artists’ creative personalities. Give a dancer a small space and surprisingly diverse reactions manifest -– acrobatics, striptease, body manipulation, madness, and, perhaps to be expected, bending the rules. Gimmickry was thankfully limited. Like National Public Radio’s three-minute fiction contest, a constraining device can unlock clever ideas. Even when it didn’t, the dance ended soon enough.  

Among the highlights was Michelle Fujii, an expert in Japanese drumming and traditional folk dance, who stuffed four bodies onstage in “Slipping Through My Fingers.” Every step and whack of the fan drum was precisely measured, timed and executed with graceful amplitude. Jennifer Backhaus worked with cheerful exuberance and gymnastic athleticism in “The Margin,” using four dancers to trace and test the boundaries of vertical and horizontal space.

Wade Madsen’s “Got It,” performed by Jack Moebius, had a similar buoyancy, with skipping and robotic bursts complementing a recorded score by Dim Dim. Barber and partner Cydney Wilkes tipped the stage on its side in “Wicked,” a comedic duet and battle of body manipulation, costume hijinx and feathers. 

In “Tangle,” Margretta Hansen crisscrossed the theater, tying up patrons in the unraveling yarn of her knitted sweater (costume by Kim Mathiesen), and finally concluded onstage with a silent scream of despair. 

Carla Mann’s “Snag” offered a lyrical duo coarsely executed; while Meg Wolfe’s “Shannon’s With The Band (again)” explored a morose character, part drum major, part go-go dancer. Both Linda Austin in “Nigh” and Angelle Hebert in “Splinter” (with Mann performing) went over to the dark side, reveling in over-the-top psychosis. Austin struggled through a forest of paper, while “Splinter’s” Jesse Berdine chopped the stage with an ax. 

A family emergency caused the last-minute withdrawal of choreographer Melanie Rios Glaser, so Madsen stepped in with a witty, imaginary striptease, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby,” to a Judy Garland recording. 

Big dances have their attraction, but "Ten Tiny Dances" demonstrated that size isn't everything.

The program repeats Saturday night.

RELATED:

Dance reviews from the Los Angeles Times

Off Center Festival draws younger crowd to Segerstrom Center

-- Laura Bleiberg

Photo: “Nigh,” choreography, visual design and performance by Linda Austin. Credit: Doug Gifford

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