Miami choreographer Marissa Alma Nick is a storyteller. Her company, Alma Dance Theater, brings a particularly female inner world to the stage through lush and sensual choreography.
Nick’s newest project, Flowers for Spring, opens Saturday, June 3, at Miami Light Project’s Lightbox. It’s a deeply personal meditation on her maternal and paternal grandmothers’ passage through dementia and death.
This is not the first Flowers for Spring from Alma Dance Theater; the original premiered in the spring of 2016. But Nick often reworks her projects year by year. It’s a peculiarity of her process — one that gives us the unique pleasure of seeing an idea from multiple angles.
This year’s version is Flowers for Spring (Part 2: The Art of Forgetting and Dying). Nick has expanded the cast and the story, and even the musical score has changed. So for those who saw the 2016 version, this one is not a restaging but something entirely new.
Nick recently spoke with New Times about Flowers for Spring, and its personal meaning for her.
New Times: What is this piece about?
Marissa Alma Nick: I premiered Part 1 last spring, and this is an evolution of that story. The show tells the story of both my grandmothers. In 2015, each of them passed away. One had dementia, and the other had Alzheimer’s. [Both versions] are taking you into the minds of my grandmothers,and dismantling the fantasy of the world that they were living in during those last months and year. It’s also called The Art of Forgetting and Dying because it’s a process of surrendering. It goes through the stages of any kind of crisis or trauma, which is fear, denial, and eventually acceptance and surrender, and finding peace in it.
It’s also a piece about love. In becoming the caretaker for them... one of the things I tell the dancers is it’s an extraordinary amount of love that you find within yourself, as well as courage to take care of somebody that way without feeling like it’s a burden. It’s probably one of the hardest roles to play in life: becoming the caretaker of your caretaker.
What is the significance of the title?
Springtime was the moment between both of them dying. My grandmother passed away in January of 2015. And then February, March, April happened, and then right at the end of May, my abuela Maria passed away. So spring was kind of this awakening for me and a rebirth from death. It forever changed me. And the flowers: Through each of their experiences, the one thing that jogged their memory, that gave them a moment to be more in touch with reality, were flowers.
It just so happened that each of them had an affinity for flowers. My grandmother loved any yellow flowers, particularly yellow daisies and sunflowers. And my abuela Maria loved red roses. So the first act is “Abuela Maria,” and there’s a red rose that plays an important part in that piece. And the second act, “Daydreaming With Jean,” is about my grandmother Jean, and the stage is covered in 100,000 yellow flowers.
Flowers also have a delicacy that relates to mortality.
Absolutely. We give flowers to people when they are sick or to show them that we love them. Often flowers are associated with funerals and cemeteries, and so there’s a lot of love that comes with the giving and receiving of flowers. I didn’t want this to be something morbid — that’s the transition between the first version and this one.
The first version of the show last year was very much coming from a place where I was still dealing with it myself. I felt very isolated, and everything was moving in slow motion as I picked up the pieces of my life again. And since then, a lot has evolved. I’ve had time to process it differently, and I see the beauty in what happened. My goal with this is to share that with other people too, so it’s not just this difficult subject, which is Alzheimer’s and dying and aging, but reflecting the beauty that comes with that — the love and the support. There’s beauty in death. It was my goal to find that beauty in this work.
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Can you talk a bit about the feminine aspect of this piece?
The femininity of it, the graceful beauty, there’s kind of a sensuality in "Abuela Maria." I’m wearing one of her nightgowns actually, that she brought from Cuba. She was a very sensual woman and was a nightlife woman. She loved hosting big parties at the Tropicana and things like that. So that comes out. And I wanted to explore what it must be like at that age. I’m not there yet, but I can imagine, me, now, I love being a woman, and part of that is because of the way I express my sensuality. And I think part of the... I don’t know if "discomfort" is the word, but the feeling of losing yourself as you get older, I feel like a big part of that for women is feeling the loss of their sexual nature or sensual nature.
Even through all of this, for both of them, there was still a grace and elegance. Both of my grandmothers were superglamorous women. I felt it was important to reflect, especially as a tribute to each of them, as well as a piece about Alzheimer’s and aging and dying.
— Catherine Annie Hollingsworth, Artburstmiami.com
Flowers for Spring (Part 2: The Art of Forgetting and Dying)
8 p.m. Saturday, June 3, at Miami Light Project, 404 NW 26th St., Miami. Tickets cost $50 for VIP, $25 for general seating, and $15 for students/artists. Visit almadancetheater.com or eventbrite.com/e/flowers-for-spring-tickets-33132819154.