MasterMind 2016 Finalist: Dancer and Choreographer Marissa Alma Nick Reinvents an Old Art Form

This year's three MasterMind Award winners — chosen from a group of ten finalists — will be announced this Thursday, February 18, at Artopia, New Times' annual soirée celebrating Miami culture. For tickets and more information, visit newtimesartopia.com.

“I’m that little girl whose mom put her in dance at age 3 and took it very seriously,” jokes Marissa Alma Nick, the dancer and choreographer behind some of Miami’s conceptual dance projects. The dancer found her passion for choreography at a young age, and today she sets powerfully emotive, interactive and often site-specific pieces on her troupe of dancers at ALMA Dance Theater (ALDT), the company she founded in 2014.

“The last few years, I’ve been getting myself to a place where I know myself as an artist and choreographer, and I knew I just really wanted a tribe,” she says about her dance company.

Nick, a Miami native and New World School of the Arts grad, spent her postcollege years freelancing in California, taking various gigs as both dancer and choreographer. “In L.A., I saw the freelance world, where you’re working with a lot of different people all the time,” Nick says. “I like taking my time with ideas and building energy with the same people — that always made more sense to me.”

After spending nearly five years in Los Angeles, a major Hollywood production brought her home in 2011. “I knew I would finally start my company, but I thought I would do it overseas,” explains Nick. “I decided to take one last job, Rock of Ages, which was being filmed here in Miami. [When I came back home] I didn’t even recognize the city; it was just so bizarre.”

In this uncharted territory, Nick felt a particular freedom to explore. Miami was undergoing a cultural renaissance at the time, and the theater scene was also undergoing a shift. Nick started to think outside the box — literally. Working outside of the theater space to present site-specific installations, Nick was creating interactive dance experiences in unconventional places. She championed a screen dance movement in Miami as director of Tigertail’s Screen Dance Miami festival, which highlights dancers and filmmakers exploring new ways to capture movement on film and out of a four-walled room. “It’s a language that allows the viewer to focus on something in the body and in a dance that can’t be experienced in a live setting,” says the choreographer of the screen dance movement.

While much of Nick’s work involves site-specific performance, she hasn’t shunned the theater altogether. In March, Nick and ALDT will present Flowers for Spring at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium, a two-piece performance that will feature works she created as a meditation on grief. “It’s really about two women who experienced dementia in two very different ways and the intensity and beauty of saying goodbye while still celebrating life.”

Whether staged under a highway or performed onstage, Nick’s choreography aims to get to the heart of raw human emotion. “I want to give people the freedom to feel,” she says, “and if I can do that with dance, then I’ll be very grateful.” 

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