Mishele Mennett invited mid-valley choreographers and dancers to participate in the Corvallis debut of "Ten Tiny Dances."
The artistic director's performance guidelines were simple. Each piece must last six to eight minutes, and the dancers must stay connected to the stage.
If the last part sounds confusing, here is some context: the stage is 4 feet by 4 feet. It's raised about 18 inches off the floor.
With a stage so small, the audience sees every move a dancer makes. There's nowhere to hide, said Rebecca Chadd, choreographer and dancer.
"Choreographically it forces you to be super-intentional with everything you do," Chadd said. "You can't waste a movement, because it's a microscope. It has a way of zooming everyone in."
"Ten Tiny Dances" will make its debut Saturday night at the Majestic Theatre. A question-and-answer session with Mennett, the choreographers and dancers will follow the show.
"Ten Tiny Dances" was created in Portland in 2002 and continues to be produced by founder Mike Barber and others, with permission.
Mennett first learned about the production as an assistant professor of dance and body sciences at DeSales University, near Philadelphia. She choreographed for "Ten Tiny Dances" of Allentown two years in a row.
"I was amazed that even though I had been dancing and choreographing my whole life it changes what you do, because of the limitations," she said.
"It's more about developing dance from the inside out as opposed to doing all these sweeps across the stage and leaping through the air impressing people with your athletic prowess," Mennett said. "It's more about the inner message of the dance."
For Mennett, who has danced and taught dancing, as well as been involved in the theater community since she moved to Corvallis in 1990, bringing the production here is a dream come true.
"What I want to bring to Corvallis on this is local choreographers really testing themselves and being challenged to do something new and different," she said. "I'm very proud of each and every choreographer and very excited."
The show will feature ballet pieces by choreographer Megan Skinner and dancer Maddie Koegler of Corvallis Academy of Ballet; choreographer Erin Palmer and dancers Hailey Hetterick and Ben Souther of Regional School of Ballet; Chinese dance by choreographers Yaling Fan and Hong Li and dancer Jessie Song of East Dream Chinese Dance Group; a solo performance in East Indian classical dance by choreographer/dancer Arpita Mukherjee; and tap dance by choreographer/dancer Laurel and Sophie Thompson of Pacific Dance Company.
There are modern dance pieces by choreographer Donna Blatt Ervin and dancers Kaleigh Ellenburg, Heather Fenske, Sarah McCullough of Modern Dance Technique; choreographer/dancer Rebecca Chadd of Freedom Dance Company with dancer Javan Davis; solo modern dance pieces by choreographer/dancer Jonalyn Salzano and choreographer/dancer Lucia Lind.
A contact improvisation piece by improvisers/dancers Elizabeth Kerle and Carolyn Stuart rounds out the 10 original dances.
Contact improvisation dance requires at least two dancers who share their weight, pull and lean against each other on stage. They respond to each other's movements, creating the dance in the moment. None of it is choreographed, Mennett said.
For dancers Chadd and Davis, the tiny elevated stage, which they call "the box," appeared daunting at first.
"It feels small, but begins to feel bigger as you dance on it more," Chadd said.
Davis said: "I can't do everything I'm trained or used to, but there's a safeness about it."
Chadd is a Corvallis native who got her start in dancing at the Regional School of Ballet and returned to perform in last spring's "Dance Gallery." She owns Freedom Dance, a modern dance company in Monmouth. Davis, who previously performed as a soloist in a performance Chadd directed last December, is currently a dancer with touring company Rainbow Dance Theatre. Both studied dance at Western Oregon University.
Chadd choreographed a duet titled "Safe Here." The two have collaborated and worked on it for about three months.
"The concept, it's just about developing trust in a relationship, the inherent complexities, and the risk involved in developing a real connection with someone," Chadd said.
To Chadd, the piece reflects her relationship with God. For Davis, it's something different.
"For me, I think it's more of the lover route. The trust it takes to build a genuine connection with somebody," he said.
The pair said audience members may see different relationships in the piece.
Mennett and the dancers have chosen to donate the proceeds this year to Center Against Rape & Domestic Violence (CARDV).
"This is to honor people who are speaking out, so a lot of the dances have to do with having a voice even though you are constrained and confined," Mennett said.
"Safe Here" was created with this cause in mind.
"'Safe Here' is safe with you and safe in this connection," Chadd said. "I really love portraying an image of a safe man."
There is an extra included with the "Ten Tiny Dances" performance.
Local artist AliceAnn Eberman has organized a Tiny Art Show, which is on display in the Majestic Theatre lobby. The exhibit is comprised of 4-inch-by-4-inch works that fill a board space the size of the dancers' stage that resembles a mosaic. It will be on view through the April 19 during the Corvallis Arts Walk.
"Ten Tiny Dances" is going to become an annual performance in Corvallis, Mennett said. Saturday's show is just the kickoff.
Chadd said audience members likely will enjoy seeing the different ways dancers explore the space of the box.
"I think that will surprise people," she said.