"This is a laboratory for those who make dance and theater," said Liam Clancy, curator of Sushi Performance & Visual Art's new experimental series, 4x4, at last month's debut event.
Clancy stood on a miniature dance floor in the middle of North Park's Bluefoot Bar & Lounge in front of a room crawling with people-some sat on the floor or stood up on barstools, others gathered in close to the tiny stage, vying for the best view, and still more lingered in back, munching on pizza they'd ordered from Lefty's, an Italian joint down the block. Before leaving the stage, Clancy encouraged audience members to get involved. He told them to make noise, holler, clap or stamp their feet when something rousing happened.
After three solo performances, duo Michelle Cortez and Lavina Rich took their places on the 4-by-4-foot stage. In a mix of spoken word and dance, the pair blasted past the restrictions of the small space and put on a full-sized performance. The crowd was absorbed in the action; during the performance, all that could be heard was Cortez's voice and the occasional clatter of glasses from the bar.
After the two finished their performance, the satisfied crowd whistled and applauded and offered the performers an informal critique.
The premise of the 4x4 series is simple: Have 10 artists, hand-picked by Clancy, perform for 10 minutes or less atop a small stage; mix in the casual mood of a neighborhood bar; and see what happens. The hope is that the event will become for dancers and performers what a poetry slam is for spoken-word artists and poets. According to Clancy, the limitations of the stage, the brevity of the performance and the looseness of a bar setting allow local emerging artists to teach and-through the informal critiques of a bar crowd-be taught.
The event is "an in-between space where you can get your work out there, get some feedback, and just keep doing stuff without having to be grand," said Clancy, who spends his days as a professor of dance at UCSD. "You just keep trying your own stuff out....
"And the audience is not a typical dance audience," he continued, "which is great."
Indeed, it's hard to know with whom one might clank wine glasses at a 4x4 event. The latecomer standing on top of a barstool could be just a curious bar regular or someone from the dance community taking notes. Or, that person could be someone like Meg Wolfe, curator of a performance series called Anatomy Riot at Zen Sushi in the L.A. enclave of Silver Lake. Wolfe, who was in the audience at 4x4's inaugural event, is part of the reason the series itself was born. Clancy says he mixed Wolfe's idea of intimacy and audience feedback with the idea of using a small stage from Ten Tiny Dances, a dance series started in Portland, Ore. He got the idea to put a time limit on performance from Max 10, a dance series in Venice, Calif.
"What they did [with Max 10]," said Clancy, "they picked three artists in the beginning, and over beer, chips and salsa, you had to give the artists some real feedback-what kept you in, what kept you out.... We haven't gotten to that place yet with 4x4, but it's about trying to get out an idea or two so we get a sense of things."
Sushi's 4x4 series is happening at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14, at the Bluefoot Bar & Lounge, 3404 30th St. in North Park. The event continues every second Tuesday of the month. $5 suggested donation. 619-756-7891 or www.sushiart.org.