Monday, June 29, 2015

Artist Feature: Alyssa Martin and Rock Bottom Movement

I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Rock Bottom Movement while I was in Stratford this spring as part of SpringWorks Festival. Their work was funny from the get-go, clever, absurd, wonderfully danced and thoroughly enjoyable. I loved watching it, and I also longed to get up there and join them.  Luckily, choreographer Alyssa Martin was on hand and I got to meet her and her electrically-charged dancers after the show. When I heard they were self-producing in Toronto this July (DO IT YOURSELF at Dancemakers Centre for Creation, July 2 and 3 at 8pm) I knew Alyssa would be my next interview. And here it is....

photo of Alyssa Martin courtesy of Rock Bottom Movement

LR: What drove you to make this show happen?

AM: I’m always driven by a need to get my voice out there & try out my work with an audience. This time in particular, I was itching to get back into a theatre because I’ve been using more casual spaces with limited lighting & space for the past little while for our evening length shows. I’ve also got a wondrous cast of dancers and performers on board so I’m always driven by a need to go, “Look! Look how great these dancers are when they’re lip-syncing and writhing about!” 

LR: Can you tell me a little about your dance background, where you came from, trained, any influences?

AM: I grew up training in Ottawa, starting with tap lessons when I was 2. I used to do competitions (equipped with the bedazzled bras and what not) but that world was never really my thing. I was fortunate enough however to grow up with some amazing teachers who taught me the importance of versatility so I was fully immersed in many different styles right from the get go. 

When I graduated high school I moved to Toronto to go to Ryerson University and got to work with some incredible teachers during my 4 years there. I supplemented my training throughout university with intensives in Montreal, Toronto and New York - a personal favourite being my incredibly comfort-zone prodding yet rewarding week with Marie Chouinard & her dancers. 

LR: I really loved the quirkiness of the work you presented at Springworks Festival in Stratford — how did you get to that style or approach?

AM: Thank you! With that piece, I knew wanted to go after a fusion of quasi-forced femininity blended with these aggressive yet precise bursts. Think fembots doing a broadway number in Dexter’s killing lab. We worked a lot on accessing a sort of psychotic directness to the execution of the movement and changing the level of the dancers’ inner monologue from regular thoughts to heightened empowered commands. 

I was after the craziness because of the subject matter I pulled inspiration from- 3 female felons who used PMS as a criminal defence in 1980s Britain (hence the nonstop 80s pop music). As for the quirkiness, it’s sort of embedded in the fibres of my being -- as well as those of the dancers I tend to be attracted to -- so it’s hard for me to create anything without the “weirdness” making an appearance. 

LR: I love that: "psychotic directness". I also identify with the unavoidableness of weirdness. Maybe those descriptors are why I enjoyed your work so much. You create a physical manifestation of the tangents of the mind, including those fantasies of dancing with a lot of pizzazz.....So what’s next for you?

AM: After DO IT YOURSELF a couple of the dancers and I are off to Quinte Ballet School to give some workshops and a showing. In the fall, we’re crossing the border for the first time as a company as we’ve been invited to present a work as part of a festival going on in Louisiana. Then it’ll be about time for another show in the city! That’s the near future, otherwise just continuing to make dance, help people make dance and staying open to anything. 

LR: What do want to accomplish with Rock Bottom Movement

AM: Oh, so much! But in a nutshell as long as I can continue to create the work I like (& get better at it), work with interesting people and show a wide range of audiences from different places, I’ll be accomplishing all I need. I want to make sure Rock Bottom Movement always has a part in making sure “dance” doesn’t become boring. 

LR This is a question i’m asking everybody i interview this season: can you tell me about a performance you saw that was a game changer for you, really inspiring or influential in how you developed as a choreographer or dancer?

AM: D.A. Hoskins’ The Land of Fuck (a fable) was a total game changer for me. Until then I had only seen “nice dancing” with deep lunges and high legs  - the concert dance I knew was done in long dresses and lace up shoes (I was a sheltered suburbanite, give me a break). 

When I was in my early years at Ryerson, a good friend pulled me out to an old church with him to see The Dietrich Group and it was during that performance that I was like “Damn, I want to make these things!”. The dancers were naked, they were gluing stuff to the floor, contorting themselves and painting each other and I was there drooling thinking “YOU CAN DO ALL THIS!?”. 

After that performance I went on a choreographic research bender obsessing with different masters of the strange and trying to open my little eyes. I mean, obviously my work is nothing like Hoskins’, but without even knowing me he taught me a lesson in infusing the bright popping colours of your soul & the essence of your weirdness into your work. You can truly create a whole world that way - and people like a break from this regular one we usually hang out in!  

Experience Alyssa's quirky-amazing world as she does it herself in:

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Artist Challenge: Five shots of artistic history and lessons learned

It went around Facebook a few months ago and I was nominated to share as the trend waned, then got on top of the challenge even later....but nonetheless it was a lovely and illuminating exercise in "where are all my old dance photos" and "holy s@#t!! that was actually a more important moment than that other one that felt so good."

I promised myself I would compile the five moments into one post here, so it's all in one place: my considerations through April-June 2015 about which moments were worth sharing and why. And here are my five posts from the 5 day artist challenge on Facebook.

DAY ONE: I woke up thinking of this photo this morning and one of my cast mates had posted it by the time I got up. I learned so much in this show "And one night it snowed" with theatre Rusticle. I learned joy from Patrick, abandon from Viv, strength from Melinda, and found my voice with Hume Baugh. I learned the hustle, and how to cope with someone unwittingly standing on my hair on stage. I fell in love with Theatre Centre and became committed fully to Theatre Rusticle and to leaving behind fear in order to become better......thank you Allyson McMackon and all the marvellous people who were part of it.

photo courtesy of Theatre Rusticle 

DAY TWO: Trusting and surrendering to my body, learning to see structure as tools not flaws, feeling habits shift daily. facing fear directly. deciding to turn off comments function of youtube because people say ignorant crap. standing up for myself is standing up for the child in my belly and the wonderful person with whom I made that child. standing up for the misunderstood or voiceless. important in a whole new way.

DAY THREE: 11 x forgetting 2007. Performing with a broken arm and working with four amazing collaborators: Jenny Goodwin Robin Squiggy DuttJennifer Bolt and Bee Pallomina. This piece is a touchstone because I came to understand to never underestimate my colleagues' generosity and commitment whether in crisis or not, never underestimate what the human body is capable of, and to value the role of restrictions on the creative process (i.e. do not fall on your arm, at all costs). Dennes Pehadzic would also say I learned that being on pain-killers during a creative process leads to some "interesting" choreography. I can't hear Paranoid Android without thinking of dashing across the stage with the magical Jennifer Bolt and Bee Pallomina as in this photo.

photo by Jeremy Brace

DAY FOUR: TBT and Artist challenge day 4: when I first moved to Toronto I was writing a lot and this wonderful, now defunct magazine published me several times and I even won a short fiction contest with them. I loved this time in my life when I felt I could dedicate myself to music, painting, writing and dance. People said I had to choose and I rejected that idea. Dance won the battle for my attention, perhaps because it was the hardest for me, the least natural. In rereading these stories, I can feel a consistency with what I try to do now....connect disparate things, offer random curving thoughts with abandon and all of my heart and let the audience fill out the cloudy parts with their own imaginations.

DAY FIVE: last day artist challenge: This challenge has brought me to moments and highlights that haven't necessarily seemed like grand ones in my memory, but are so important. Here is an image from 2005's "that corpse you planted last year". it's a risky thing using the word 'corpse' in the title of a dance piece, you are just asking for some devastatingly clever reviewer to annihilate you. I did get slammed for this piece, internalized the bad review and rather painstakingly extracted myself from reading reviews....took a page from Hume Baugh's book (he really SHOULD write a book)...when I look back I love this work deeply and this image says it all -- after burn.

photo by Dennes Pehadzic

This is what I hope for -- energetically, physically, imagistically -- to leave a trace. And this image is about perseverance too. Just keep doing the work. The ferocious Malgorzata Nowacka and Caroline Niklas-Gordon with me in this shot. The wonderful Bee Pallomina, Jeremy Brace and Jennifer Bolt also jumped, flailed and worked their bums off for me in this piece. I believe the picture was taken from the booth at Dancemakers by Dennes Pehadzic with Gillian Lewis at the controls and lighting by Robin Squiggy Dutt.

May there be many more moments to consider in the coming years.
Thank you to all the wonderful people who were part of these moments, or helped me build to these moments....

with cheer
Lucy Rupert
artistic director of Blue Ceiling dance
and fervent blogger, here.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Freeing up space through GRIDLOCK: Larchaud Dance Project's site-specific and high-flying new work

With a rush of immersive, augmented, non-traditional, call-it-what-you-will new dance works being staged inventively these days, it has got me thinking a lot about rehearsals.

As dancers we spend a lot of time training our bodies to physically do very specific things and be in the best, most responsive physical shape for the tasks at hand. But when the tasks at hand involve the unpredictability of an audience immersed in your world with no clear separation of stage and witnesses, how do you prepare?

You can't rehearse an interactive audience without just performing with an interactive audience. A new level of readiness and confidence is imperative.

I sat down -- usually that's a cliche in interviewing terms, but we really did sit down in the same room together! -- with Jennifer Robichaud to speak about her site-specific, potently interactive work GRIDLOCK for Larchaud Dance Projects which opens June 11th at the Artscape Youngplace building. The work moves through the building and explores fighting as a physical, mental and energetic theme.

"I've wanted to do a non-traditional production for a while. It has been our thing to take something that starts on the street and put it on the stage, but now we are working with no barrier between us and the audience. The audience is part of the show whether or not they participate in a really active way." says Jennifer.

She describes the experience for the audience as one of choice. There are cues to follow, but audience members are not led through the performance, there is no pressure to be interactive. From the initial idea of fighting in everyday conflicts, GRIDLOCK, by the nature of its staging, embodies conflict at a deeper level than the dynamism of its movement vocabulary. The project aims to involve the audience emotionally through the proximity and barrier-free staging.

"For us the choice to not participate interactively says something about human nature and conflict.  If there is hesitation -- is it the show or the individual's response to conflict?"

And how to you prepare for the myriad responses possible in a work that invites interaction with an audience but does not define what shape those interactions might take?

"It would be hard to get a practice audience that wasn't made up of our friends and colleagues who would probably be more likely to interact with us." Jennifer says.

Dancers would be able to predict audience responses in this situation too. So the team involved in  GRIDLOCK decided to let this be part of the experiment. Dealing with an assortment of responses in a non-traditional performance lies right inside the theme of dealing with human nature and conflict in the moment.

It helps that the entire team is used to working in non-traditional settings. Ryan Lee and Amy Hampton are long-time Larchaud collaborators, as well as being involved in the ambitious Bata Shoe Museum projects staged by Anandam Dancetheatre.  Larchaud choreographers Jase Cozmic and Jennifer Robichaud and dancer Patrizia Ferlisi have performed in a variety of venues.

New to the choreographic team is Raoul Wilke, of Moonrunners dance crew, and master of many street styles. Also new to the team is contemporary dancer Jesse Dell as outside eye, taking over for Marie France Forcier who took leave of the project when she had her baby.

"Having both of them turned out well. Marie France really looked at the subject matter as outside eye, Jesse has looked at choreographic structure. "

Larchaud Dance Project's cast trained in parkour in order to get comfortable with using their environment fully. "We're not necessarily doing parkour but learning the techniques helped us gain strength to experiment and push our movement further."  This added confidence resulted in getting so tight in the choreography that it stopped having the feel and look of a fight. 

"We hired stage combat expert Paul Stafford to help us get the fight back in there."

The choreographic process is admirably integrated and democratic. All three choreographers (Cozmic, Robichaud and Wilke) choreographed material and integrated it together. There were specific limitations or restrictions bestowed upon each choreographer, and different sections reiterate and supplant movement material from other parts. Woven into this fabric are the dancers' thoughts and physical impulses to make something personal yet embodying the collective vision.

"The dancers were very honest when the choreography wasn't feeling right. They'd say 'I wouldn't react this way'." So the choreography became more realistic based on dancers' understanding of their own tendencies in conflicts.

This is one of the first Larchaud shows that doesn't have a story. There's a narrative and a sense of character for each dancer, but no plot, making the individual dancers' relation to the movement and the theme more vital and also accessible. All part of stripping away the divide between performance and everyday human nature which is part of GRIDLOCK's aim.

Immersive performances for dancers and audience alike is heightened reality. It stylizes or frames what daily interactions are all about. And site-specific, environmental, immersive or augmented settings can create the potential for deeper, more direct connections once we're all back in more traditional theatres. Our sensitivities are attuned and vivid, open. 

In site-specific and interactive works we see each other seeing each other. And when you look into someone's eyes you have the chance to feel what it's like to stand in their shoes.