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Oluyinka Akinjiola combines spoken word with dance, and for the second year in a row will perform her unique stylings at Beaverton's Ten Tiny Dances



TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Oluyinka Akinjiola of Portland will be performing at Ten Tiny Dances in Beaverton, scheduled during Saturday's Beaverton Farmers Market.Her hands push against the force of the air around her with a fierce fluidity. Strong, yet soft. Weightless, but powerful.

Right now, Oluyinka Akinjiola is dancing in the gazebo at Peninsula Park, surrounded by rose bushes and not far from her North Portland home. It’s not a performance, but if it were, spoken words would accompany her movement, and those would carry with them a force of their own.

“I like to use storytelling, but it’s definitely not a definitive way to make dances,” said the 27-year-old dancer and choreographer. “In my work, I like to have a through line that allows the audience to connect, and that’s my way of trying to reach the audience so that they can see the development of a work — a thread that kind of connects things, or a way to see the progression of an idea.”

In her dance, Akinjiola combines Afro-Brazilian and Afro-Cuban dance with modern and contemporary movement, often adding text to her choreography. In the past, she’s used Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman?” and Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise.” At Beaverton’s Ten Tiny Dances on Saturday, July 11, she’ll incorporate text from “The Danger of a Single Story,” a TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Common between these writings are their female authors, all with important and relevant voices in their places in time and history, Akinjiola said. TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Oluyinka Akinjiola combines spoken text and dance to create unique performances with powerful messages.

Growing up on the East Coast outside of Albany, New York, Akinjiola began dancing around age 2. She started with tap and jazz as many young dancers do, and remembers family gatherings full of music and movement. Eventually, Akinjiola began exploring her Nigerian roots through her dance, and spent time learning the histories, stories and traditions that led certain styles to creation.

“What is at the heart of these dances? Where do they come from?” she asked, noting that knowing the answers to these questions ultimately helps her answer one final question: “How do I bring that in myself?”

Today, with a Master of Fine Arts in choreography and performance, Akinjiola is the artistic director and choreographer of Rejoice: Diaspora Dance Theater. She combines the old and new to create dances authentic to herself, again using text to add another layer of power.

“I think people are still shocked when dancers speak,” she said. “I felt like it was the next challenge for myself, to actually speak on stage.”

In her second year performing at Ten Tiny Dances, Akinjiola will once again dance on a 4-by-4-foot stage, this time accompanied by the taiko drum stylings of Michelle Fuji. So far in her career, this is the smallest stage Akinjiola has ever performed on, and she said it commands a specific kind of energy.

“I think the closeness to people, it creates a different dynamic. Because if I’m on a stage, the people are already separated, but on that tiny stage, people have to get right there with you,” she said. “It forces me to be really articulate and really intentional in all of my movements; it can be a very vulnerable place on that little, tiny square, so you really have to be completely present in all body parts, without the ability to go beyond it and go big.”

But for Akinjiola, regardless of the stage’s size or the number of dancers performing, it’s always about the story. It’s about the story behind the text and how that relates to the dancer speaking the words; it’s about the cultural movement behind the formation of the specific dance stylings; it’s about the intersection of past, present and art. This is true of Akinjiola’s choreography, whether she creates it for herself or for a company — it’s all a dialogue, an expression.

“Dance is an embodied way of communicating,” she said. “Sometimes, I feel like I don’t really have a choice. It’s the path I chose, and I can’t really separate myself from dance anymore.”

Whether she’s performing on a minuscule stage or a grand one, Akinjiola’s messages are ever-present and unwavering. Through her voice and her body, she communicates with the audience and creates a connection that is specific to her medium, a connection that embodies her own self as much as the dance’s shared stories.

“I hope that it’s memorable,” Akinjiola said of her performance, taking a long pause before finishing her though, “that some new seed is planted, some new idea, some new way of looking at something — even dance. To see that dance can be used to convey a message. It can be a powerful art form.”

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Oluyinka Akinjiola of Portland performs some dance moves that might be featured at the upcoming Ten Tiny Dances in Beaverton.

If you go

What: Ten Tiny Dances

Where: Five stages - Farmers Market at City Park in Beaverton, 12375 S.W. Fitfh St.

When: Saturday, July 11, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Cost: Free

More: Dances are performed simultaneously on each stage every half hour, beginning at 10:30 a.m. You can find more information here or here.