Dance series previews Small Stage Canada

Production travelling to Ottawa for Magnetic North Theatre Festival

Dances for a Small Stage presents Small Stage Canada - a preview of their upcoming performance at the 2015 Magnetic North Theatre Festival in Ottawa - at The Emerald supper club June 2-4 at 8 p.m. Ticket: $20. More info: smallstage.ca.

Employing disciplines spanning from burlesque to ballet, dancers will present a no-holds-barred comment on Canada's political climate in the nation's capital next month - while standing on an incredibly tiny platform.

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Dances for a Small Stage is a vivacious Vancouver-based dance series that showcases new and established contemporary dance forms in a completely unconventional venue: picture an intimate Vegas-style cocktail lounge or cabaret atmosphere, and a ridiculously small stage. We're talking a three by four metre platform plunked down one metre away from the closest audience member, which serves to foster an intimate entertainment experience.

This inventive approach to live dance theatre started in Vancouver in 2002, and since then 200 choreographers and performers from varied dance backgrounds have graced the small stage.

And now seven of these Vancouver-based dancers will travel to Ottawa's National Arts Centre to present an audacious, politically charged program of new music and dance creations, as part of the 2015 Magnetic North Theatre Festival on June 9 and 10.

Vancouver audiences will have an opportunity to take in an "avant-premiere" of the program, titled Small Stage Canada, a week before the dance troupe takes off for Ottawa. The eclectic group of music, dance and theatre talents will perform at The Emerald, a Chinatown supper club, self-described as "old school Vegas glamour with a little bit of anything goes attitude." "It's tiny and you get to have a drink and you get to rub elbows with the person next to you," explains Dances for a Small Stage artistic producer Julie-anne Saroyan, of the intimate venue. "It's a completely different experience than going to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre."

The political platform for Small Stage Canada is derived from the Weimar Cabaret in 1920s-era Germany when political commentary and liberal ideas were expressed through art forms, after decades of dictatorship in that country.

Small Stage Canada also takes it cues from the famous musical Cabaret set against the backdrop of the Nazis rising to power in Berlin. Inside the asylum known as the Kit Kat Klub, cabaret dancers masked the grim reality of the Nazi regime through entertainment.

While the Small Stage performers are not dealing with political challenges on the same scale as 1920s Germany, they have been asked by Saroyan to come up with contemporary issues from Canada's political landscape and set those feelings to music and dance.

Saroyan, who is excited to see what topics the performers choose, speculates that it could be anything from the economy to what happened to the penny.

The performers include classically trained ballet dancer Chengxin Wei to burlesque queen Burgundy Brixx. Throughout the evening, a musician will tie each of the five-minute performances together, playing everything from Chopin to jazz.

When Small Stages takes the tiny platform at Ottawa's National Arts Centre for the MNTF, Saroyan says it will be an opportunity to take advantage of the fact the performers will be in Canada's political heartland.

Small Stages will have grown in size by this point, through the addition of some other performers from across the country who have had a relationship with the company in the past. But one thing won't change when they all perform in the expansive arts centre: the very essence of the small stages format. "Actually, that's one thing I insisted on - that we cannot change the size of the stage," says Saroyan. Small Stages is sort of bending the rules as they break into the renowned Magnetic North Theatre Festival, which has historically been reserved for, as the name suggests, theatre performances.

Saroyan says she is fortunate for the opportunity made possible by a friend she made in the Vancouver arts circle, Brenda Leadlay, who just happens to now be MNTF's artistic executive director. Saroyan considers Leadlay to be a "visionary whose artistic sensibilities have helped shape and guide my career."

If Leadlay's name sounds familiar to North Shore residents, it's because she spent eight years as artistic director at North Vancouver's Presentation House Theatre.

Speaking to the North Shore News from Ottawa last week, Leadlay said being immersed in this new role has changed her definition of what theatre is.

"We are really trying to build audiences for Canadian theatre," said Leadlay. "I'm big on taking chances and risks." But Leadlay insists she wasn't taking a chance on bringing Small Stages aboard for the annual Ottawa festival that features a range of programming, including main stage events, outdoor shows and guerrilla street theatre. "I don't think it's a chance, I think it's like Vancouver, it (Small Stages) will be very popular," said Leadlay. "I think people like consuming performances when they are in a setting that is social."

Leadlay is effusive with her praise for Saroyan, saying she is pushing the envelope and building an audience for dance. "I think of her as a presenter," describes Leadlay. "Her esthetic is very strong. I think she has a strong sense of playfulness which is important."

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