Dances for a Small Stage score big time

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      When the formidable Margie Gillis appeared at Dances for a Small Stage 12 in 2006, show organizers Day Helesic and Julie-anne Saroyan had a unique problem on their hands: the event sold out. There they were, outside Crush Champagne Lounge shortly before the 8 p.m. curtain, turning spectators away. “People were quite angry; they were very upset,” Saroyan recalls of that January evening. “They just couldn’t believe it. They were like ”˜This is a contemporary dance show: What do you mean it’s sold out?’ ”

      That wasn’t the only time the MovEnt artistic directors have found themselves having to deny people entry. Ever since the series began in 2002, it’s proven to be a tremendous success, selling out repeatedly—a remarkable feat given that tickets only go on sale an hour before show time, and all the more noteworthy given ongoing government cuts to the arts and the recent economic gloom.

      More than 160 artists have performed as part of the series, which hits a milestone tonight through Sunday (January 22 to 25) with its 20th show. Copresented by the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival—and travelling to the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa for an exhibition called BC Scene from April 30 to May 1—the latest edition consists of two programs and will feature performances by Toronto’s Peggy Baker, Ottawa’s Tedd Robinson, and Vancouver’s Cori Caulfield, Chengxin Wei, and Helesic, among others.

      Having started out at the Royal, a downtown bar, Dances for a Small Stage moved to Crush before taking up its current home at the Royal Canadian Legion on Commercial Drive. Besides always offering a place to buy drinks, the show has maintained a strict programming mandate: pieces no longer than seven minutes performed on an eight-by-13-foot stage by dedicated artists.

      “We know what works for our audience: works that are danced properly, choreographed with skill,” Day says over a latte, before Saroyan adds: “And that have a beginning, a middle, and an end.”

      “If something is thrown together at the last minute, it doesn’t work,” Day notes. “In that environment, everything is so stripped down that if you depend on tricks it won’t hold up. You have to depend on your craft. Our audience wants to have fun, see amazing dancing, laugh, be engaged, and be touched in some way.”

      The series’ memorable moments include Ron Stewart dancing clad only in a chicken-wire tutu, Deborah Dunn giving birth to a crystal ball, and Patrick Pennefather in the role of a swami. Another highlight was seeing Noam Gagnon and Dana Gingras of the Holy Body Tattoo perform their physically ferocious choreography at the inaugural event.

      Gagnon is back for the 20th show, presenting Unfold Me, a new solo MovEnt commissioned for the series.

      “The space is so intimate, so raw—you can’t escape,” Gagnon tells the Straight in a phone interview. “The audience can sense you, smell you, hear your breath, feel your sweat. It forces you to stay honest, to stay present, to be real.”

      Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg also appeared in the first Dances for a Small Stage, and will perform a new character-driven solo tonight and Friday.

      “It’s one of the most exciting gigs in town,” Friedenberg says. “It’s so much fun. Everyone ends up doing things they probably wouldn’t do otherwise...and you get a different audience. They’re much more rambunctious.”

      Because the show offers so much diversity, Saroyan and Helesic describe it as a “low risk” for viewers, whether they’re seasoned artists themselves or have never once been to a dance performance.

      “People get revved up about it,” Saroyan says. “It really does ignite the community.”



      Reader via e-mail

      Jan 26, 2009 at 2:45pm

      I read your excellent article about Dances for a Small Stage in the January 22^nd online edition of the Georgia Straight.

      In the article you mention that the company will be "travelling to the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa for an exhibition called BC Scene from April 30 to May 1"

      Dances for a Small Stage will indeed be appearing at the BC Scene, however they will perform at the National Arts Centre.

      BC Scene is not an exhibition but rather a multi-disciplinary arts festival organized by the National Arts Centre that takes place in Ottawa from April 21 to May 3, 2009. It will be the largest gathering of British Columbia artists ever presented outside the province.

      BC Scene will feature 600 artists from disciplines as varied as music, theatre, dance, visual and media arts, literature and culinary arts in more than 30 venues around Ottawa.

      Among those in attendance will be more than 60 Canadian and international presenters - producers, buyers, or talent scouts - to discover B.C. talent and bring it back to their own audiences.

      The full BC Scene lineup of artists will be announced on February 24^th in Ottawa. I will make sure to send you the information. Meanwhile please check out the partial lineup of artists on the BC Scene website at You can also view the preview page for Dances for a Small Stage at

      Feel free to call me at the number below if you need more information.

      I had the pleasure of meeting Day and Julie-anne and seeing a performance of Dances for a Small Stage at the Legion on Commercial Drive a couple of years back.

      They are wonderful and we can't wait for audiences in Ottawa (and beyond) to discover their incredible work.


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