Wednesday, February 16, 2005


Mike Barber's brainchild, 10 Tiny Dances, returns for some minuscule movement.

By Ian Greenfield

Grandiose. That's the word that gets many performers into trouble, mounting an enormous project with a full complement of lights, complex costumes and elaborate sets, while simultaneously suffering under the weight that "this piece has to be my signature piece." Yet it's often the smaller, economical works that provide artistic innovation: the loose, but structured quick concept that suddenly finds the traction needed to advance the cause.

Three years ago, Mike Barber started playing with just such a concept. Ten Tiny Dances was conceived as a one-time fundraiser but has since solidified into a regular performance series, with a dedicated following and some long artistic legs. The conceit is simple: provide a 4-foot by 4-foot stage to 10 choreographers who develop 10 individual dances for the confined space.

Now on the eighth round, Barber draws from various fields of the performance community. This Sunday will feature performances from House of Cunt's Amber Martin and Oregon Ballet Theatre's maestro, Christopher Stowell, along with performers from farther afield, from Seattle to San Francisco. Seeing what artists do with the minuscule stage is worth the price of admission alone.

Despite a total performing area of just 16 square feet, Ten Tiny Dances is far from artistically limiting. The parameters actually seem to provide a freeing context to create within. "I want to get to the truth of the form," Barber told WW. "I've been tightening the rules, really trying to get people to innovate within the constraint." In past work, the use of vertical space, unique objects and apparatuses, along with the maximum exploration of the given area, has contributed to its success.

Barber hopes this buffet of small pieces will create more interest in Portland dance. And why not? The shorter pieces, the highly contrasted artists and the increasing expectations for invention within constraints might prove more attractive to a casual viewer. The potential expands thanks to performing spaces such as Crush, Holocene and the current venue, Bluehour.

Understanding the momentum that Ten Tiny Dances has created, Barber plans to take the show on the road. His first tour will be a split-city collaboration: five Seattle artists and five Portland artists, with performances in both cities. "I actually cut the stage in half to make the whole thing more portable," says Barber.

Two by four? Perhaps for Ten Tiny Dances' tenth round.