With Dances for a Small Stage, Movent’s Julie-anne Saroyan has gone a long way toward upping the art form’s cool factor. Now, with a brand new side project, she’s ready to boost its hipster cred yet again.
This weekend, she’s launching Dances for a Small Stage point 5 at the just-opened, retro-Vegas–fixated Emerald club. Unlike the regular series, point 5 will pair up musicians like Mother Mother lead singer Ryan Guldemond and Nautical Miles frontman Corbin Murdoch with dancers for an evening of short performances. Their collaborations will play out on a stage that, at eight-feet-by-eight-feet, is even tinier than Small Stage’s regular platform at the Ukrainian Centre.
The new series is inspired, in part, by incredible meetings of rock music with dance in the past—most memorably, Saroyan says, the seminal hookup of David Bowie with La La La Human Steps for concerts in the late 1980s. Saroyan sees the potential to draw new audiences to dance by throwing people’s favourite musicians into the mix, but she adds there are other motivations too.
“I think one of the things that might be on the list of priorities is making exciting projects for artists,” she tells the Straight over the phone amid a whirlwind of preparations for the show, including building the stage itself. “I’m talking about collaborations that can only happen when you step outside your comfort level—real risk-taking.”
Saroyan had long toyed with the idea of pairing up musicians and dancers, and saw a perfect venue open up in recent months when her old pal Rachel Zottenberg unveiled the atmospheric Emerald in Chinatown. Around the same time, Mother Mother’s Guldemond and dancer Jen McLeish-Lewis had approached her wanting to create a work together. From there, Saroyan sought to pair up enough other artists from the rock and dance worlds to put an evening together at the Emerald. Cue a lot of java drinking.
“I just kept asking people, just kept having coffee with people saying, ‘Who are the musicians you like?’” she says with a laugh. “I just kept asking and asking and listening to a lot of music, and then I started choosing who I wanted as musicians.” Afterwards, she took to bringing those musicians out for coffee with the people she thought would make good matches.
The result is an eclectic roster of both emerging and more established talent. Spoken-word artist and musician C.R. Avery is creating a work with dance artist Hayden Fong; Murdoch is pairing up with dancer Lina Fitzner; experimental-electronic-pop artist Stefana Fratila collaborates with dancer Karissa Barry; and Four on the Floor String Quartet cellist Michelle Faehrmann matches forces with dancer Julie Chapple. Dance artists Justine Chambers and Billy Marchenski will weave their own characters throughout the evening.
Audiences will be able to opt into a three-course prix fixe dinner combo for the evening—another departure that Saroyan enjoys. “I think people want an evening out these days and don’t want to go to five different places,” she explains.
She may know what the mid-century digs and its Rat Pack–era menu are going to look like, but the dance is going to be a bit of a surprise. Saroyan is learning to trust the matchmaking skills she put to work over all that coffee. “It’s pretty risky—that’s why I’m not sleeping,” the lighthearted artistic producer says with another laugh before running out to organize more details for the Emerald’s first dance-music show. “It’s an exercise in instinct and trust.”
Dances for a Small Stage point 5 is at the Emerald on Friday and Saturday nights (November 29 and 30).