Small Stage Summer Series, Sundays in July at North Vancouver Shipyards from 4 to 5:30 p.m. For more information visit smallstage.ca.
When things get too heated in the bar, it’s time to take it outside.
As the non-profit dance organization Small Stage prepares for its July residency at the Shipyards in Lower Lonsdale, company founder and creative producer Julie-anne Saroyan reflects on how the group went from performing at pubs and other small venues around town to taking their craft to public spaces outdoors.
No matter where they’re plying their craft, however, the organization’s mandate has always been to use unconventional venues and to perform on a “ridiculously small stage,” explains Saroyan.
“When I moved out here many years ago I realized we needed something that was between a theatre experience and that was accessible. Not everybody likes to go into theatres and not everybody does that,” she says.
In the sometimes stuffy air a theatre proper can conjure, the audience is compelled to sit down and clap for the dancers, explains Saroyan, adding that there’s a rigidness and formality at play there, at least compared to the spontaneous, energetic fun of performing in a space not explicitly set up for dancing.
In 2002, Dances for a Small Stage premiered at the Royal Pub in Vancouver. Since then, Small Stage has produced more than 35 dance instalments, says Saroyan, whether that’s at pubs, legion halls, cultural centres, or even the great outdoors.
“I’ve been taking it outside for a little while. The evolution was I started in bars and then probably about five years ago was when I started doing things outside as well,” she says.
Asked what she likes about hosting Small Stage performances outdoors, Saroyan says she likes how people are free to wander around and explore the public space – and her performers are able to entertain them. “Seems like a built-in audience,” she quips.
While the types of venues have changed over the years, Saroyan has stuck to the same tried-and-true format when it comes to Small Stage programs. That means that passersby at the Shipyards during the month of July can expect to see plenty of three- to five-minute long pieces from a group of professional dancers employing different styles and genres of dance.
“For the Shipyards we’re doing tap dance, we have live music, we have contemporary dance. We have urban street dance – we have a lot of different styles of contemporary dance, as opposed to last summer [when] I did a lot more cultural forms of dance, like bhangra, highland,” she says, adding that spectators can expect to see a “tap dance splash piece” in the fountain area outside the Polygon Gallery.
Saroyan adds that she’s particularly motivated for Small Stage’s summer series at the Shipyards because of the iconic history of the waterfront itself during the Second World War. “I’m inspired by one thing at the Shipyards heavily, which is the history of the Shipyards and the fact that there were all these amazing women that were making a huge impact on the Shipyards during the ’40s.” She adds that her eclectic team of dancers this summer are all women.
“I think it’s going to be pretty cool to see dancing in an environment that normally you don’t see that in,” she says of dancing outdoors. “This is an opportunity to be in a public place where there’s going to be a lot of people watching them, it’s really quite amazing how big your audience can be and grow to.”
The 2019 iteration of the Small Stage summer series commences this Sunday at 4 p.m., with performances set to commence at the fountain outside Polygon Gallery. Performances are also slated for July 14, 21 and 28.
Would-be spectators are encouraged to visit the Shipyards and check out the performances. While there won’t be seats like a traditional theatre setting, clapping is optional. Asked what the experience of performing outdoors in a small space is like, Saroyan explains that the relationship between performer and audience is changed when the spectacle occurs in such an informal setting.
“You don’t have to follow rules,” she says. “I’m a rule breaker.”