Spotlight Session: Nick Alselmo
What are the Spotlight Sessions?
I was the child who asked “why” 150 times in a row, to the dismay and occasional annoyance of the adults around me. That curiosity and need for discovery grew with me and became a guide on my artistic path. Determination, inquisitiveness, and the drive to connect with others led me to write, dance, choreograph, produce, and educate.
I started my company, Six Degrees Dance, with the mission of creating community. Embodying the theory that all people are connected through a social network of 6 or fewer degrees, we collaborate in an environment where the exchange of ideas is the building block for innovation and growth. We approach dance making with the belief that the contribution of the individual benefits the group, and results in a body of work reflective of the sum of its parts.
To that end, we have developed several initiatives that connect artists with audiences and with each other, maintaining the idea of six degrees of separation as the foundation for those connections. Our annual showcase brings together national and international choreographers, most of whom have never met. Our Choreographic Commission series allows the dancers of Six Degrees to work with a variety of choreographers in different styles. In The Spotlight Sessions, I will present a different artist each cycle, and through interviews, short feature articles, previews, and capsule reviews, offer a behind the scenes look into their work and their process. I hope you enjoy getting to know these unique, talented individuals as much as I have, and continue to follow them on their creative paths.
Nick Alselmo is a 2015 graduate from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) with a BFA in contemporary dance. While at UNCSA, he danced in works by Juel D. Lane, Kimberly Bartosik, Larry Keigwin, Bill T. Jones, Twyla Tharp and Merce Cunningham. Nicholas also has a passion for choreography; He presented his first piece in New York in December 2015, “Smile On ‘Em” as a part of his Kenan Fellowship with Lincoln Center Education. His July 2016 piece “Cat’n’Bounce” won an Innovative Choreography Award at Ballet Inc.’s The Series, Vol. 1. Nicholas presented a new work “Mobile Sanctuaries” at New York Live Arts in April 2017 as a recipient of the New Choreographer’s Grant presented by Eryc Taylor Dance, Inc. In June 2018, Nick presented his latest evening length piece “Igloo” at Arts on Site. He has also shown work at Center for Performance Research, Gallim Dance, Gibney Dance and Movement Research. Nick is currently freelancing and has performed with Yoshito Sakuraba, the Merce Cunningham Trust, Johnnie Cruise Mercer/TheREDProjectNYC, Lazer Eyes, The Nash Conspiracy and The Rebirth of Rabbit’s Foot.
1. How did your artistic journey begin?
I have an older brother who is also a dancer, and growing up I would copy whatever my older brother did. He wanted to take hip-hop lessons, so I went with him. After the first day, I realized this was really fun! I stuck with it, dancing at a competition studio doing all kinds of styles- jazz, tap, hip-hop, ballet, contemporary and when I turned 15 I realized I wanted to try to purse it as a career. It wasn’t until I got to college at North Carolina School of the Arts that I realized that I wanted to create. We had composition class there and I really embraced that class. We took it three times a week all four years so we had a lot of opportunities to choreograph. When I was a senior, the faculty allowed me to use the theater during a free weekend to put on my own show. That was the moment I realized that this was what I wanted to be doing once I graduated. Growing up I started speaking late, so communicating with people was difficult. I was very introverted. I used to write stuff down and create little things to keep myself entertained, but once I was able to combine that with dance training, I never stopped. At NCSA, the composition curriculum began with solo dance making. The next step was to add music, and then we moved on to duets, then group pieces. At the very end we were required to make a final solo recapping everything you did at school, like a retrospective. The curriculum really came full circle and I really enjoyed that experience. We were able to develop a voice and add layers to it.
2. What is your drive as an artist? What is it that you hope to express/contribute to the world through dance?
The way I naturally move tends to be a combination of many different styles and one thing I would like to accomplish is bringing people together through my art. The one issue I have with the dance community is how divided it can be. I think that tends to come from the stylistic training people have had and a lot of times people act as if you do one thing that it defines who you are as an artist. I just don’t believe that. I think being able to take all the things you have learned and mix them together makes your work stronger and more accessible to a wider audience. I ultimately want to incorporate eclectic dance styles with martial arts to bring dance to as many people as possible. Just knowing the amount of joy and refuge dance has brought me, I think it can bring that to just about anyone. Dance is a universal language and ultimately I would like to be able to create spaces for everyone to be able to to enjoy and learn.
3. What has been your biggest challenge and your proudest moment?
Since I’ve moved to the city my biggest challenge has been getting people together to create. One issue is the access to space and how much stress goes into finding space to the point where it almost robs time and energy once we get in the space to create. We expend so much energy making sure we can secure a space and that everyone can get there that there is minutes being wasted and its hard to even realize or quantify it. For me, because I’ve been working independently, I’m sort of at the mercy of what and who is available and going off of other peoples schedules. I’ve been able to make work and with every process I have gotten better at managing it all, but it has been a challenge. For the last show did in October of 2019, two of the girls didn’t rehearse together until tech because they were never available at the same time.
My proudest moment was producing my first evening length show at Arts on Site in June 2018. Having a plan and sticking with it and raising money to be able to pay may dancers. We all put in so much work and I was happy be able to make sure they were paid. The shows were nearly sold out both nights and it was just me putting that together on my own. To me that meant if I could do that on my own, I can do it again and it’s only up from here. From that experience moving on to the next one, I know there are things I don’t have to stress about because I learned how to do them so I can focus my energy on new challenges that haven’t been presented to me yet. I learned on the fly other skills that I didn’t know I needed and just taking that on was a big step.
4. Describe your creative process.
I’m a big music person. My dad is a DJ. I played drums when I was younger and I like to create music. My family is from the Caribbean so music is a big part of our lives. I use music as my inspiration and a landscape or atmosphere that movement is able to live within. Every idea starts with a track of music I’ve heard and marrying that to a concept. I will then find various pieces of music that support the concept and start moving with them and narrowing down the concentrated points of communication.
5. What do you do when you are not creating? What activities or things inspire you to fill your creative well?
I’m a huge sports fan. I watch a lot of sports to unwind. If I didn’t get into college for dance I probably would have studied communication and sports journalism. I’m kind of a sports nerd! Sometimes my movement is actually inspired by what I see players do on the basketball court or football field. People tend to forget that dancers are also athletes. I try to make my movement as athletic as possible. I’m also into comedy so sometimes I will incorporate comedic elements into my work, and I also like to DJ in my spare time.
6. What is next for you?
I’ve been taking a bit of a break physically because the past year has been intense. I am working towards starting a company this spring. My goal when I moved to the city in May 2015 was to be ready to start a company within five years. So right now I’m working on the logistical parts of that- budget, website, marketing. So stay tuned for that! I also started working as a trainer at HACKD Fitness in Chelsea and I’m really enjoying learning new things about fitness and incorporating that into my dance practice.
Behind the Scenes look at “The Patio”
Choreography: Nick Alselmo
I was fortunate to be in the audience at Shifting Tides, an Evening of Dance at The Actors Fund Arts Center in November, 2019 when Nick Alselmo premiered his latest work. As a performer, Alselmo has a beautiful curiosity to his movements, like a child at play. In his solo The Patio, he captivates with a remarkable ability to be at the same time aqueous and exact. He can arrest gestures into a single point of focus or morph them into a seamless flow, and the interplay of those two dynamics make his phrasing playful and richly textured.
In Butterfly Knife, movement flurries dissolve into stillness and simple walking patterns serve as palette cleansers between ideas. Dancers confront each other in a series of duets and relationships devolve from joyful to dark, supportive to alienating. Masked performers, representing ghosts of a past each couple in turn has to confront, manipulate and confuse. Sudden arrests in the flow of movement highlight the strength and grace that often comes from navigating loss.
Here Nick gives us a glimpse into his inspiration for The Patio and Butterfly Knife
My solo “The Patio” is a structured improvisation solo. The indoor patio at the home where I grew up was where the music would be playing from and the place where people would dance during family parties. The idea of the patio is nostalgic for me and in my solo I use three pieces of music. One piece is from the 80’s, an RnB band called M2… and thats the music from my dad’s era that he used to play. From there it transitions to Earl Sweatshirt rapping and in it he samples a beat from that song so it’s sort of the past and the present. My dad was around my age when the song came out so there is a lineage aspect. The third song is one I discovered on my own, representing me being home alone just dancing. I wore these funky, weird pants as a costume- I always wore clothes that were a little out there. My parents came to the second night of the premiere and I like to wear those types of clothes in front of my parents so they can ask me where I got them. And one of the first questions my dad asked me after the show was ‘Where did you get those pants from?’
With “Butterfly Knife,” I like to use puns or plays on words as titles for my pieces also and a butterfly knife is an actual knife that folds in and opens out like the wings of a butterfly so it’s easy to conceal. But it is also playing on the fact that often when you have romantic feelings for someone you feel butterflies in your stomach when you seem them. But also sometimes love can be puncturing to the heart like a knife. So the title is a play on words- sometimes love is both a butterfly and a knife in your stomach. It is also something that can sneak up on you. Throughout the piece you see how the effects of one relationship often carries over into the next, which is a play on the term ‘butterfly effect’ and how one small event can lead to a chain of much bigger events. One person’s past can be brought into their future. In the piece, there are five dancers dealing with their own demons while being in the same space trying to figure out how to confront each other. I wanted to play with that idea but not do it in a strictly narrative order so that as an audience member you have to figure out who is connected to who. At any point any one person could be the protagonist or antagonist depending how you’re looking at it. There are shadow figures that come into the space and I wanted to the audience to be able to interpret their role in many different ways. For me, they were manifestations of the subconscious and how we can often get in our own way when trying to move forward in our lives. I was thinking how many different ways I could manipulate that idea and also the idea that people react to the same situation in many different ways.
Check out Nick’s fourth degree of separation coming in March!