Dances for a Small Stage is taking performance cues from 1920s Germany

Julie-Anne Saroyan wants Canadians to ask more questions.

As the artistic producer of Dances for a Small Stage -- a Vancouver-based dance series known for its distinctive performances -- she hopes that her upcoming show will prod audiences into doing just that.

“We live in a great country, but we also need to keep asking questions, and demanding answers,” she said.

To that end, this year’s production will take its aesthetic cues from Weimar Cabaret, a glamorous performance style popularized in late 1920s Germany. Sandwiched between two world wars, the brief era of Weimar Cabaret allowed performers a space to talk about the political upheaval happening around them.

“They’re masked in songs and dance, but they’re talking about very real political issues," said Saroyan. "Soldiers beating up friends of theirs at night, or things that were happening around them in terms of social issues, like currency or politics or the economy. So Weimar cabaret is really digging deeper into that era of art."

Admittedly, the issues facing modern Canadians differ from those of pre-World War II Germans. One of Saroyan's particular interests is the recent disappearance of the penny from Canadian currency.

“What does it mean that we don’t have them any more?” she said. “Are these just little pieces of metal, or are they worth something?”

In fact, as part of the show Burgundy Brixx, a Vancouver-based burlesque artist, will perform a piece that deals with these disappearing pennies -- both literally and figuratively.

“Pennies [will be] coming out of different places, I heard,” Saroyan said.

Accompanying Burgundy Brixx and several other performers on the piano is Patrick Pennefather. Pennefather, a composer, artist and self-described “enigmatic trickster,” also teaches with UBC’s master of digital media program, and recently delivered a course on strategic design for business innovation with the Sauder School of Business.

According to Pennefather, the collaborative process is integral to design in both business and the arts -- something he has reinforced to students in his past courses.

“In the arts -- and especially with Small Stage -- collaboration is an assumed part of the process,” said Pennefather. “You have to learn to work, not just with other artists, but with a design team, the producer, the director and also the cast, whether they’re actors or dancers.”

This is a question addressed regularly in Pennefather's classes at UBC.

In this spirit of open collaboration, the show will undergo a workshopping period during its preview at the Emerald Supper Club from June 2-4. Audience members will have a chance to give feedback to the performers in what Saroyan describes as an “art reality show.” The performance will then travel to Ottawa, adding artists from Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario to its roster before its final performance at the Magnetic North Theatre Festival.

“What Julie-Anne has created with Small Stage is an incubator, in this way that’s a fantastic opportunity for artists,” said Pennefather.

“This showcase is going to demonstrate that we can collaborate across the nation. Yes it’s massive, and yes it’s really hard, and yes we pull our hair out at times to make it happen, but it’s happening!”