Update: Due to logistical issues, Alma Dance Theater's Rebel in Venus will open on Saturday, November 23.
Choreographer Marissa Alma Nick is redefining the expectations of risqué dance through her forthcoming dance opera, Rebel in Venus. Instead of solely stimulating the audience visually via provocative expression, the show will engage spectators by challenging them to confront the dancers' sexual traumas as well as their own.
Produced by Alma Dance Theater, Rebel in Venus will run November 23 through December 21 at the Hot Box. Nick says the narrative compounds the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements and addresses the current conversation on rape culture via sex-positive feminism.
“The show is immersive and engages the audience," she says. "It puts them thoroughly in the world I lived in." Nick began piecing the performance together in 2017 after reading The Healing Sex, Staci Hines' sex-positive guide for survivors of sexual assault. Nick's journey of healing from sexual assault — along with recorded conversations with her dancers about trauma, sex, and menstruation — evolved into the show’s 2018 debut at the Colony Theatre in Miami Beach.
This year, she plans to use Rebel in Venus to mirror the cultural shift that has occurred on topics such as sex work, body shaming, and rape culture. The themes will be present during scenes of striptease and other playful, lascivious acts. The juxtaposition isn’t insensitive; rather, it obliterates the stigma of sex work and pleasure.
“It’s about how we feel empowered through a lap dance, but also how to have boundaries,” Nick says.
Leading up to the show, the Alma Dance Theater hosted a three-part workshop designed to allow attendees to reclaim and reconnect to their bodies. The 90-minute sessions, taught by Nick, focused on group discussion and movement as tools of therapy. “It’s not a dancer’s workshop: It's open to men, women, whatever your gender identity is,” she says, adding that the movements shared in the workshops are not meant to tease or lead others on, but instead to unshackle attendees from feelings of insecurity.
The titillating power of femininity also connects the series to the Roman goddess of sex. Venus has become a contemporary shorthand for desirability, but Nick aims to reconceptualize her prowess through the diverse cast of Rebel in Venus in a symbolic gesture.
“Venus is always exposed and has this meek-ish and doe-eyed female characteristic,” she says. “Every reference is through white women. It's reshaping the iconic figure, and what does that mean to this generation?”
The nine dancers performing Rebel in Venus will get the chance to revolt against archaic tropes of sexuality to an original soundtrack composed by the New York-based musician Hope Littwin. The dancers' respective stories will act as a meditation on power and truth.
“Each dancer defines a certain Venus and shares a different vignette," Nick explains. "It’s a revolution of becoming yourself and healing your trauma. The rebel is detaching from the past, history, and redefining her story."
Fusing her technical dance background with her experience as a stripper and burlesque dancer, Nick has created immensely personal choreography for this work. To make Rebel in Venus, she had to outline her boundaries in sex work and remove the lingering shame from a sexual assault she experienced.
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“As an artist, you find ways to impact everyone else," she says, "but you can miss when it happens to yourself."
Nick recognizes her transparency is an anomaly in a system that has silenced many rape survivors like her. The Rebel in Venus performance and workshops address the harm perpetuated by slut-shaming in the hopes of inspiring a revelation in participants.
“I want the audience to feel like a fly on the wall without judgment and witness these girls in their most unfiltered state,” Nick says, adding she plans to take Rebel in Venus on tour to share the show's dialogue with as many crowds as possible. “Even if they feel judgment, that’s a wakeup call.”