On a boat dock on the Foss Waterway, a woman lies on her back on the hot decking. She stretches both feet straight up, and onto them — carefully and slowly, holding her hands — a slim, tattooed man lowers himself until he’s horizontal, floating.
Then he lets go.
It’s not your average marina scenario, but this particular couple aren’t your average boaters. They’re Rachel Cargill and Daniel Martin, acro-yoga practitioners who will be among the acts at this Sunday’s Ten Tiny Dances at Tacoma’s Jazzbones. Their performance, along with others from tap to hip-hop to spoken word, shows just how this annual fundraiser for MLKBallet is evolving, pushing the boundaries of dancing on a 4-by-4-foot box.
“I try every year to have something different,” says Faith Stevens, director of the tuition-free MLKBallet and organizer of Ten Tiny Dances. “The format stays the same, but the content just depends on who’s performing.”
This year, Stevens has an eclectic line-up for the Ten Tiny format, which was created in Portland in 2002 by Mike Barber. There are plenty of straight-up contemporary choreographers, like Spectrum Theater’s Shadou Mintrone, fresh from a $500 artists’ prize at Tacoma City Ballet’s recent Choreographers’ Showcase. TCB assistant director Joel Myers, Barefoot Collective choreographer Michael Hoover, Tacoma dancer Jeanne Douville, Seattle dancer Victoria McConnell, and former MLK student Kayla Mathurin will hit the stage. Many of these will dance their own solos, though there are a couple of duos and trios to mix things up.
But there are some new genres as well. Spectrum dancer William Burden is doing a funky tap routine. V.J. Frijas will be onstage in a hip hop trio. Vincent Lopez will dance to his own spoken word.
Then there’s the acro-yoga. This yoga offshoot explores basic and advanced yoga poses in tandem with another person. One acts as the “base,” supporting the “flyer.” From the outside, it’s like a slow-motion circus; internally, say Martin and Cargill, it offers a unique experience of intimacy and trust.
“When I first saw a couple playing with acro-yoga at a festival, they had a deeper connection than I’d ever seen before,” Martin says.
He contacted that couple, took lessons and eventually started teaching in Tacoma, joined by Cargill after she saw the classes on Facebook. They now teach at Good Karma center downtown and have become life partners, living on a houseboat on the Foss and practicing on the dock.
Which is why the idea of Ten Tiny Dances, where performers must stay (mostly) on a 4-by-4-foot box in the center of the audience, doesn’t seem difficult to them.
“We’re used to practicing in confined spaces,” says Cargill, gesturing around the boat.
The height of the box, though — 2 feet off the ground — does make getting in and out of some poses tricky.
“It’s not that high, really, but mentally it’s a metaphorical cliff,” Martin says. “You can’t just put your foot down wherever you want.”
Bringing acro-yoga to Ten Tiny Dances involved other challenges as well. For Cargill, a former MLK company dancer, coming back to dance raises long-term dancer issues of judgment, criticism and fear. For Martin, with no dance background, the challenge is inverted. And for both, there’s the question of how to bring yoga — an internal practice — out to a public performance level.
“You have to include the audience,” Cargill says. “And when you’re performing, you’re not yourself, you’re a persona.”
“It’s not just pose, pose, flow, like yoga. It’s about the spaces between tricks, where you’re telling a story with subtle movement,” adds Martin.
Also new to Ten Tiny Dances is Simone Peterson, co-owner of Harbor Dance in Gig Harbor, who’s finding challenges of her own in the format. Used to choreographing multi-dancer pieces for a proscenium stage, she’s marked out the 4-by-4 stage on her floor with various objects to remind herself that on Sunday there’ll be an audience on all four sides.
“I think of dancing to the ‘rock’ side, or the ‘pen’ side,” Peterson jokes about her set-up. “So everyone can see everything.”
Usually a “big traveller” when she moves, she’s also finding new expression in smaller movements.
“I’m using my upper body and arms more,” she says. “It’s a nice change. I feel like I might emote better, too.”
But the real challenge for Peterson’s piece isn’t the space constraint — it’s the piece itself, written in memory of a friend who recently committed suicide. To a score of repetitive, pounding rhythms and aching high notes (“Halocene” by Bon Iver), Peterson begins low, kneeling and scooping up the floor before arching up into gestures that contain both joy and pain.
“The challenge is trying to say what I want to say and making it meaningful enough,” she says. “I find the English language to be very confining — I’ve started to feel like dance is my first language and I can speak really articulately in that. But not everyone else does.”
As with last year’s Ten Tiny Dances, there will be a couple of extra “mini” dances as well as the standard 10, and for the hour before the performance (doors open at 6 p.m.), a trio of local musicians will play a mix of improvisation and classical. Stevens recommends getting there early to get a good seat.
“We’re always really close to sold out,” she says.