Marissa Alma Nick, the director of Miami's Alma Dance Theater, stands in the middle of her dimly lit studio among her company of dancers. "You have two choices here," she says. "You're either the murderer, or you're the victim. But both characters require you to lose total control of your emotions — caused by the guilt, shame, and disgust you feel from what you've done."
About a year ago, Nick, a graduate of the New World School of the Arts and an accomplished dancer and choreographer, formed the Alma Dance Theater, a company comprised of local dancers Sarah Amores, Camille Arroyo, Sasha Caicedo, and Juliana Triviño. The show she's coaching her dancers on, Cask, debuting October 29 and 30 at Rift Blackbox Theater in Wynwood, is a provocative retelling of Edgar Allen Poe's The Cask of Amontillado, a murderous tale that's erotically-charged in Nick's interpretation.
"I've always been attracted to the macabre," says Nick, who has spent her career looking to contemporary choreographers that infused their stages with visual art and bold music as muses. Perhaps that's what sets Alma Dance Theater apart from other contemporary dance companies in Miami: Nick prefers to create ultra-sensory experiences that immerse the viewer into her own subconscious, making it a point to stay away from the traditional model by casting site-specific installations that beg the audience to step in and engage. "I think it's exciting when you don't know where the audience is going to sit or stand," she says. "It makes you more alert because you don't know how the audience is going to act. They are literally in the show."
Nearly all of the choreography Alma has performed this past year — from an installation with visual artist Amanda Keeley at Frederic Snitzer Gallery, to a performance entitled Black Carriage/White Heart with visual artists Christina Pettersson and Christin Paige Minnotte, and singer/composer Hope Littwin — have been driven by Nick's eagerness to collaborate with the city's talented and diverse pool of artists, for what she calls the "Holy Trinity" of performance art: choreographer, composer, visual artist. According to Nick, "every piece has to come together" to make it a memorable experience.
For Cask, Nick teamed up with hip hop artist Lofty305 to present a surrealist adaptation of Poe's vengeful short story, in which the narrator, Montresor, tortures and murders his friend Fortunato during a drunken Italian carnival. Nick's version lays the blame on both parties: on the murderer, for his vicious act; and on the victim, for causing his own death by virtue of his wicked soul. The guttural music sets the stage for Nick's interpretation, a dance that centers around control, and the free fall we experience when we decide not to hold back anymore. It's also a deeply sexual piece, rife with bondage and nudity, a contemplation of the line between sexual desire and the urge to harm.
Originally created when Nick was at New World, she previously performed the piece with her studio partner Pioneer Winter in 2013. For this round, she went back to her original work, setting the piece with her all-female company of dancers, in order to highlight the depth of emotion — no matter how chaotic — that can exist between two women. "In our culture you constantly hear women apologizing," she notes. "I find that this story, when set onto women is great because the relationship is so parallel, the depth of anger and release, and that's why I love it between two women."
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It's a point Nick insists on driving home, which in many ways all-encompasses her mission with Alma, a company named after her great-grandmother. Nick aims to present emboldened pieces that explore the powerful, kaleidoscopic nature of a woman's soul. "Having this uninhibited, bold voice for women is so important for me," she says. "My girls and I are from Miami — from Hialeah to Overtown, we're super urban chicks — so there's this grit that's inside of us, and I'm trying to find a way to shine a light on that and express the beauty of that."
Alma Dance Theater's Cask
Performed in collaboration with Lofty 305 and ABA Jewels, on Thursday, October 29, and Friday, October 30, at 8:30 p.m. at Rift Blackbox Theater, 222 NE 25th St., Unit 102, Miami. Guests are encouraged to dress in black. Drinks provided by Concrete Beach Brewery. Tickets $30 at Eventbrite.com. For more information, visit almadancetheater.com.
Follow Nicole on Twitter.