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Modern dance is an infinitely adaptable art form. It can happen with one person or many; with music, noise or silence; onstage or on location in parking garages, Aztec pyramids, elevators or bars.
It's that last venue that interests Tara Mullins of Z Mullins Dance. She mixes art cocktails at Tiki Bob's Cantina by combining modern dance with the bar scene on a tiny stage. By inviting dance artists from the region to perform in a bar on a 4-by-4-foot stage, Mullins hopes "to attract a diverse crowd and change the landscape for the dancers."
Picture it: a 16-square-foot stage built on a bar that is mounted by dancers who might be more accustomed to performing on stages of several hundred square feet. The doors open at 6 p.m., and dances occur throughout the night. So how do the dancers approach it? Some, Mullins says, adapt larger pieces to fit the tiny space. Many perform solos. But in last summer's "4x4" (this week's show will be the second she's facilitated), Mullins says, a trio performance was adapted to fit the stage and worked even better there than it had in a larger space.
This time out, a performance by four dancers from the Latin Ballet will include tall bamboo sticks, making use of the space above the stage (moving up, not out). Other groups braving the bar this week include Charlottesville's Ma'at Ensemble, which focuses on contemporary ballet, Keira Hart, also from Charlottesville, and Z Mullins Dance itself. Mullins says there are also a few performers planning to improvise toward the end of the evening. The obvious challenge of the space inspires the dancers and engages the audience (already relaxed, perhaps, by a few drinks). Sometimes, Mullins says, "it becomes almost like a tightrope act -- everyone's just waiting to see if the dancers can stay on the stage."
Mullins first learned of site-specific dancing in small spaces from one of her dancers, who'd worked with a California-based company called Malashock Dance. Other versions of the "4x4" series exist in San Diego and Los Angeles.
Mullins thought the idea was perfect for her company. "A big part of what we set out to do when we started the company was to help people who might not normally be comfortable at a modern dance concert ease their way into it," she says. Plus, Mullins and her husband are co-owners of Tiki Bob's, so it was a natural, if perhaps strange, fit.
Setting dance loose from the theater can often generate new interest and energy, and the response to "4x4" from audiences and dancers has been enthusiastic. It's important, Mullins says, "to be able to let Richmond know that modern dance can have many different faces." S"4x4" takes place April 16 starting at 6 p.m. at Tiki Bob's Cantina, 110 N. 18th St. $5. Call 513-3976 or visit