TG20: Four Years of Feeling Infinite
Teasing Gravity 2020 Spotlight: Alyssa Martin's that infinite feeling
One of the standout, most memorable dances in CCDT's touring repertoire over our 40-year history has indisputably been Alyssa Martin's 2017 commission, that infinite feeling. The Founder and Artistic Director of Toronto company Rock Bottom Movement, Alyssa's recent accolades include a Dora Award nomination for Outstanding Original Choreography, and winning the Canadian Stage Award for Direction at the 2018 SummerWorks Performance Festival. An ensemble work for eight teenage girls, that infinite feeling has had thousands of audience members of all ages smiling and laughing with its vibrant and relatable portrayal of learning to embrace our authentic selves.
2020 marks the fourth infinite year not only for CCDT, but for two of CCDT's senior company dancers, Lola Rose Jenkins and Kaiya Lee. As the two remaining original cast members, Lola and Kaiya took some time to reflect on the remarkable and fun-filled journey the work has taken them on since 2017.
Tell us a bit about that infinite feeling. What is the piece about or inspired by?
LOLA: This piece is partly inspired by the book 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' by Stephen Chbosky. Throughout the dance, the cast gets to explore themes of being the silent observer on the side or feeling a bit weird/out of place. This was a piece made specifically for younger audiences and intended to find a way to really connect with them.
There is some dialogue in the work where we share secrets we have, or something embarrassing that happened to us, or a universal truth we believe in. I think the purpose of this and sharing these little personal “tidbits” was to show the audience we are all just kids trying to figure out life as we go, too. We, the dancers, try to show the audience it's okay to be silly and have fun and look weird. We all find joy in different things, and if it makes us happy we should do it.
What do you remember about the first performances of the work back in 2017? How has performing this piece changed for you over the years and dozens of shows since?
KAIYA: The first few times of performing this work was challenging for me. I was entirely new to experiencing and performing this type of comedic dance theatre, thus making it difficult. In the first few shows, I wasn’t able to feel extremely comfortable, which worried me in how the audience would perceive it. I wasn’t able to feel open and dig deep into what my character was at first.
After a few years, I noticed that by knowing the piece a lot better, I started to make better choices within it. I knew what could make the audience laugh but keep within the task, which made me feel more comfortable being my character. I thought that the audience could understand my role more because I understood it better, allowing the ideas within the work to become more impactful and noticeable.
What has it been like bringing new dancers into the cast each year since 2017?
KAIYA: When bringing in new dancers, the environment changes within the work. New dancers bring their individuality into the piece, changing and creating new relationships between each of us. It influences the setting of the piece significantly because I interact with the others both physically and verbally to portray the work's meaning to the audience. The interactions among new cast members are varied, as they represent the characters differently in a way that changes their relationship with me. I then experience a new feeling in the dance when performing it on stage.
The character dynamics shift with each year's remount. It has become a valuable experience for me as an older dancer in the piece to learn about and work with the new dancers' individualities, and to discover how to interact with them in the context of the work.
Rehearsal photos of the 2020 cast of that infinite feeling.
Has there been a learning curve in the artistry of this piece for you? How do you feel you and the work have evolved and grown over the years with each remount?
LOLA: I have been performing this role for four years now, which is kind of crazy now that I think about it. I was in the original creation of the piece when I was in grade 9, and it’s been with me every year of high school. In the piece, I have this monologue where I talk to a cat named Finkle. I basically try to cheer up my sad cat friend by telling them about all of the things I like to do, but then I get derailed and start talking about all of the things I don’t like, and get really angry and upset. In the end, it's all okay; I just realize it’s important to feel all of my emotions, and then I jump into my friends’ arms for a crowd surf. Super fun stuff.
This monologue has changed every year in terms of the script and my delivery of the lines. It’s really great to know how much more confident and “bold” I have become with the monologue at age 17 compared to when I was 14. I remember I was pretty scared to do the monologue the first time for an audience because there was the thought, “What if they don’t get it? What if they don’t laugh?” and I would start to think of those stand-up comedy shows when the poor comic is up on stage TANKING and no one is laughing, leaving the audience with second-hand embarrassment. I remember how relieved I was when people laughed after the first “joke” and how much fun I had on stage. It’s the best when I can hear some of the teachers or parents laugh, too. Since then I have been able to really dive into the role, and this year’s version is the most ridiculous and fantastic version yet.
My body is always super sore after Alyssa comes in to work on the piece from screaming and laughing so much. I feel like the piece kind of reached its final form this year, as if this is what it had always been leading up to for the past three years.
Lola, centre, with Sierra Kellman and cat Finkle (2017).
We have presented that infinite feeling to countless audiences across Ontario over the years, with rave reception from kids, teachers, and the general public alike. Why do you think this dance connects with such a broad audience demographic?
KAIYA: I think this piece connects with audiences because it explores the idea of being silent observers in a humorous and entertaining way. For the younger viewers, I think they connect a lot to the funny moments we share on stage, like in this year's version when I say, "Sometimes I film myself sneezing to hear how it sounds". We also bring in props such as our stuffed cat, Finkle. The younger audience always laughs at the moments when Finkle dances on stage, or when Lola tosses Finkle off stage. I think the kids believe the cat is real, and it has significant meaning to them.
When Lola talks to Finkle in the dance, I think the younger audience connects with her monologue because they can relate to talking to a stuffed animal as if it were a person. I think they also enjoy this dance because it's comedic, entertaining, and has fun music and lighting. For the older audiences, I think they appreciate hearing us talk about the weird habits we do in our lives. ("Sometimes I floss my teeth with a strand of my hair.") I feel they can relate their life experiences to what we say, which makes it entertaining for them as an audience.
Do you have any favourite things or special memories about the years of performing that infinite feeling?
LOLA: I think this piece will always hold a special place in my heart. One of my favourite parts of performing this dance for younger audiences is getting to hear how they are interacting with the piece, and listening to their questions during the post-show talkback. A few of my favourite memories include when a little girl told me that she has a cat and sometimes talks to her cat, too, or during a part of my monologue when I throw Finkle off stage, a kid decided to make a “screaming cat” sound effect while I did it. It was so funny and I had to try really hard not to laugh.
WATCH: Excerpts of that infinite feeling
We are thrilled that Alyssa Martin will create a new work for CCDT next season, set to make its world premiere in the spring of 2021! Visit RBM's pages below to learn more about the company and their upcoming projects and performances.
Meet the artists and discover more about Teasing Gravity 2020 here.
CCDT performance photos by David Hou, 2017
Costumes by Krista Dowson
Lighting Design by Arun Srinivasan
2017 Original Cast: Hope Gumahad, Essence Haigh-Blackman, Lola Rose Jenkins, Sierra Kellman, Bryony McCaughey, Dana Martin-Wylie, Kaiya Lee, and Gabrielle Ritchie
2020 Cast: Claire Finlayson, Paris Forbes, Lola Rose Jenkins, Kaiya Lee, Jaedyn Richards, Uma Roberts, Sydney Runions, and Melodie Yeung