The role of the emcee in Dances for a Small Stage is to facilitate transitions and provide a continuous storyline throughout the evening. “I’m the sorbet,” laughed Billy Marchenski, comparing his role to that of a palate cleanser between dinner courses. In this case, the courses will be dance performances by many renowned choreographers including Holly Small, accompanied by classical music performed by Toronto’s Cecilia String Quartet and John Oswald.
This edition of Dances for a Small Stage is presented in partnership with Music on Main and has a new format featuring the quartet accompanying the dancers with works by Tchaikovsky and John Oswald. The emcee takes on a different form based on the theme of the show. For their Valentine’s Day edition, Marchenski was Cupid, and for this edition, he will play the role of maestro.
“I’m there to add some energy to transitions and facilitate introductions,” he explained. The emcee uses physicality and very few words to bring awareness to the humour in the pieces and provides a continuous storyline for the audience to return to between acts. The emcee’s focus on gesture also prepares the audience to watch dance in a different way than they would watch theatre or a film.
The emcee uses movement and gesture to tell a story and build a scenario that shows the character going through some kind of transformation. “You can tell a lot of story without words. I’m interested in that — how much you can say.” The familiar face of the emcee provides a continuous thread running through the evening. “I like to create ways to make short stories between pieces,” said Marchenski.
Commenting on the music and dance and putting the focus on them is also part of the emcee’s role. He frames the performances for the audience, giving them permission to laugh through his comedic performance. “Maybe, for some audience members, a string quartet is more formal than they’re used to,” said Marchenski. Similarly with the dance, he explained, “It can be a little intimidating if they’re used to a clear storyline, but they can just enjoy the movement — they don’t have to know what’s going on every minute.
“I’m excited by the possibility of using the emcee — it’s an art piece,” said Marchenski. With the emcee acting as a foil, a commentator, and comedic relief, there are many ways he can play his character while still framing the performances and challenging the audience. Although he may adapt the character to suit the audience each night, he won’t be doing improv. “I like to set things — I’m neurotic — with lots of room for spontaneity. I like to have a plan for a plan for a plan, and two back up plans,” he said.
With the focus on classical music in this edition of Small Stage, Marchenski thinks the emcee might be a bit different. “The emcee is generally seen as a comedic role. For this show it might be interesting to find a new dynamic.” He is interested in finding the inner life of the character, and in exploring the role’s layers. “The music we’re using has complexity,” explained Marchenski, which allows for the character to be portrayed in a more complex way.
Shows where dance and music collide always bring the two audiences of each discipline together, and they also provide an opportunity for artists to network, explained Marchenski. “There is a lot of cross-pollinating and connections that happen. Artists stay in touch and then they may work together again.” Interdisciplinary shows like this are how great collaborations often begin.
Dances for a Small Stage 31 is presented by Movent and Music on Main from October 23 to 25 at The Ukranian Centre. For more information, visit movent.ca.