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: