“I took a leap of faith and brought a tarot deck into the room to help us navigate the creation of this piece…”
Alyssa Martin is a Toronto-based choreographer who humorously describes herself as an equal blend of Jack Black and the eccentric Harry Potter character, Luna Lovegood. Alyssa is the Artistic Director of the dance theatre company, Rock Bottom Movement, and her critically-acclaimed works have been presented throughout Canada and the United States. She recently toured her 2016 work, “MANICPIXIEDREAMGIRLS” to the Registry Theatre and is currently developing a new full-length interdisciplinary contemporary quasi-musical, “hollow mountain,” with Rock Bottom Movement. Reflecting on her identity as a dance artist, Alyssa explains: “I believe in dance-making as an outlet for all the most saturated elements of myself; my fiery joy, gushy pain and beaming rage!” In this interview, Alyssa shares some insights into her original artistry, including her use of tarot cards in the creation of her newest work for UNLEASHED 2019.
You’ve described Rock Bottom Movement as an absurd dance theatre company. Could you elaborate?
“Theatre of the Absurd” is a designation for a particular form of theatre, which we don’t truly sit within, so I use the word very loosely. The work we make is often quite offbeat, quirky and surreal, sometimes illogical and a little disjointed. We play with exploded versions of our consciousness as a means of emphasizing the absurdity of the human psyche. So, while the work is often absurd in nature, it doesn’t truly qualify as “Theatre of the Absurd.” I’m still looking for a better word!
How do you find inspiration for new dance creations?
The seed of a new work always starts from an obsession I have, and then is blended with the love I have for the collaborators in the room. When I’m working with a cast of people, they become mini celebrities in my life, and I make the pieces to honour their glory! I also pull from a lot of pop-culture references, irreverent subversions of my technical dance training and nostalgic memories from my rhinestone-soaked childhood to help me narrow in on a tone for the piece.
“When I’m working with a cast of people, they become mini celebrities in my life, and I make the pieces to honour their glory!”
How do you approach your choreographic work with students? What do you hope they take away from the experience?
I approach working with students the same way I work with my company, or anyone else for that matter. I try to make as much space as I can for them to be open, free and wild versions of themselves! I don’t like to put too much pressure on the product. I want to give them the chance to explore and try new things, rather than make them feel like they have to be perfect or polished. School, and especially dance school, can get pretty tough and stressful at times, so I’d like for our process to remind them that coming together in an open room with friends to work hard and make something from scratch can be a totally joyful, beautiful experience, no stress.
Could you describe the concept behind your piece for Unleashed?
We are creating it together as we go! The piece is an experiment in radical uncertainty and trusting in the universe. Since I didn’t know the students very well before going into the process, I figured it would be unfair to overlay a specific narrative or concrete idea onto them. I took a leap of faith and brought a tarot deck into the room to help us navigate the creation of this piece, while getting to know each other and squishing any negative ego or competition out of the room. We’ve been using the deck at each rehearsal to guide the process as we let the improbability of the cards push us into new (often surprising) directions. The spooky part is, similar cards keep returning to us; so, in the past few weeks we have started to narrow in on where the cards are really leading us.
We are also working with a BC-based poet, Loren Hendin, who is watching our rehearsal videos and writing original text for us, propelled by what she is seeing us make. The way things sit right now, we’re making an abstract, feminist, punky romp through our rage, but we’ll have to see how the cards go from here!
Alyssa Martin’s new creation features the following GBD dancers:
See them in UNLEASHED 2019 at Toronto’s Betty Oliphant Theatre on April 5 & 6. Tickets on sale soon.
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