Education and Classes, Features & Spotlights

Spotlight on GBD Faculty Member Alyssa Martin

April 9, 2021

Alyssa Martin is a Canadian choreographer and director. She founded Rock Bottom Movement in 2012 as a creative home and has since created over twenty new works. She’s earned the Canadian Stage Award for Direction, a Dora Award Nomination for Outstanding Choreography and was the 2018/19 Emerging Director in Residence at Canadian Stage. Alyssa has worked in residence at many art centres throughout the country including the Banff Centre, Toronto Dance Theatre, Canadian Stage and Stratford’s Research and Development Lab. Her work has been presented in festivals in Toronto and abroad. Alyssa has been commissioned to create new work for many educational institutions including Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre, George Brown Dance, Conteur Academy and Laurier Opera.

Alyssa choreographed for GBD UNLEASHED in 2019 titled “DECK” and joined the GBD Faculty this year.

Our education coordinator Elise Tigges sat down with Alyssa for this exclusive Q&A.

During rehearsal for “DECK” – UNLEASHED 2019.

“I love the energy at George Brown. It feels very positive, supportive, and healthy. Everyone challenges themselves and each other within this environment that feels so full of community and friendship.”

What has it been like teaching in person this year?
It’s been really nice. I think, at first, it was a bit of an adjustment to be in the “real” studio. This was the first time I’d been back in a few months and so it was a little shock to the system. It feels so great to have the time each week to connect with the students, chat and exchange ideas, to hear laughter going around the room, and comments in such an easy way; without the unmuting and all of the zoom things, you know. The students have been doing such inspiring work that it feels like a real honour to be there. To get to witness it in real life is awesome.

How have you enjoyed working with the students at George Brown?
I love it! I’ve been teaching mostly at Ryerson but not with the dance students — I work with the acting students there, so it’s a shift. Not that I don’t love that, of course, but it’s also nice to be working with dancers. It’s very new in that sense. I love this group. Their energy is so motivating; they’re just so supportive of each other and so encouraging. They seem to really know each other as individuals so that’s been really fun to step into. They’ve totally welcomed me in as the outsider of the group. I love the energy at George Brown. It feels very positive, supportive, and healthy. Everyone challenges themselves and each other within this environment that feels so full of community and friendship.

What’s on the horizon for you with your work with Rock Bottom?
With Rock Bottom we recently created a few super short-form videos, some seasonal reels, as an insta-commission for Fall for Dance North’s social media pages. We’re working on the beginnings of a couple new projects right now. We’re focusing on playing with new research and development in the early stages of two brand new works. We’re working on a new project called FAMOUS CARBOHYDRATE which is being created thanks to the support of a microgrant from Canadian Stage. FAMOUS CARBOHYDRATE is a new intergenerational mentorship that we’re exploring through multimedia, dance and theatre.

We’re also in the writing process for a new, sort of dance/TV show. It’ll be like a web series of short episodes that is a blend of dance, theatre and comedy. It’s a narrative show that follows an anthropomorphic business dog but the story is told in a multidisciplinary way that bounces back and forth between scripted dialogue and dance. We’ve written the scripts for the episodes and we’re in the preproduction; having table reads, planning and figuring out how we’ll tackle this. 

Alyssa’s piece for UNLEASHED 2019.

“We’re trying to think about mentorship as a multi-directional process of learning and sharing, and in that we’re trying to dismantle the hierarchy that often exists in the dance spaces we’ve experienced.” 

Can I ask a little more about the intergenerational mentorship? How does that work?
We as a company have sought out the incredible Susie Burpee, and our mentorship with her is embedded in the process. The piece loosely centres around a group of five artists who beam into their future and find out that they have amalgamated and become one human; played by Susie Burpee. The process, to summarize, is that the dancers are asking Susie questions and then I visit Susie separately the next day and relay those questions. Then, she sends answers back and she asks questions to them as younger artists to inform her own artistry and curiosity. We’re trying to think about mentorship as a multi-directional process of learning and sharing, and in that we’re trying to dismantle the hierarchy that often exists in the dance spaces we’ve experienced. 

Can you share a little of what your composition class is like? How do you run that?
Every week we experiment with different aspects of composition. We use a lot of visual art inspiration. We talk about collaging, textures, aesthetic inspiration, music and rhythm, and improv. For the first half of the semester we worked on creating a choreographic score for a solo. The students were challenged to pre-determine what they were going to do, write that down, and then try to tackle what they set out for themselves. This round of creation we’re currently working on, we’re putting away the scores. The students are creating a second solo but this time, there are no “rules.” They can just go wild with whatever they want to explore. 

Every week I ask them to journal to me. I’ll give them a prompt, and, in that prompt, I get them to send me images about what they’re working on or to tell me what kind of impact they want to have or send me a collage of textures or music. We’re always in individual, one-on-one conversation via journaling throughout the week so that when we come into class, I have an idea of what each individual person is interested in exploring as a choreographer, and then we try to do it. We share a lot of unfinished ideas with each other and use constructive peer feedback to discuss.

“What is really interesting about working here with these students is the ballet and the modern streams coming together in this class. I haven’t encountered that anywhere else, even if I’ve guested somewhere.”

It feels like this experimental space where everyone is trying things out. Some days we have throw-away days where the students just make something for today. These days especially, what they make doesn’t have to be anything – they just try something out, maybe teach it to someone else and then look at it. I’m trying to help the studio feel like a playful space where the students can experiment and figure stuff out, like trial by error. 

This is my first time teaching composition and I’m trying to be so aware that I don’t just impose my own taste onto them. I’m trying to be so vigilant with myself to think up ways to help instill a sense of individuality. Their creativity is so fresh, and I definitely don’t want to accidentally over-share my own specific artistry and turn them into weird mini-me’s. Obviously, my sensibilities are going to come into the room but I’m really trying to meet them where they’re at and help guide them. They take the lead and I try to help run with them further in the direction that they want to go. 

What else do you want people to know?
What is really interesting about working here with these students is the ballet and the modern streams coming together in this class. I haven’t encountered that anywhere else, even if I’ve guested somewhere. It’s so beautiful to see, especially with composition and choreography, everyone’s coming at it from a different training and set of interests. We have people working with ballet influences and choreography and considering how they can re-think where those two things intersect. We have modern and contemporary students pushing their artistry within those realms, and finding new possibility. There are all of these different sensibilities coming into the room. It feels really exciting to witness everyone working on different things, such different ideas, such unique individual approaches and big wide questions; which is cool. 

Check out the 2019 Blog Post on Alyssa featuring her UNLEASHED 2019 piece titled “DECK.”

Learn more about George Brown Dance.


Written & edited by Elise Tigges.