Jessica Abrams: Let's talk about what you're presenting at Celebrate Dance.
Joelle Martinec: We are doing a piece called Divine in Nature and the easiest way to say what it is is, the idea of femininity and what happens when you introduce masculine energy into that. As we started playing around, my thoughts turned to the book "The Red Tent" [a novel by Anita Diamont]. Essentially, it's the story of Dinah in the bible. I'm not a bible reader but it's the story of her life because I guess it's not really touched on in the bible, so it's sort of how Jacob came to have his four wives and what the culture was when the new moon came and the women were sent to the red tent to have their cycles together. So everything that was divinely feminine happened in the red tent. And I loved the picture it created in my head. I read the book probably about four or five years ago so I didn't remember details or anything, I just remember enjoying that feeling of the divine feminine and so I played with that as an overall theme – not necessarily a story per se but just an overall theme of a very feminine and very sacred space. And then I liked the idea of, just, okay, so what happens to that energy when you introduce masculinity?
JA: Is this just you or did you collaborate with anyone on this project?
JM: My process is always a bit collaborative with the dancers.
JA: Can you talk about your process in terms of choreographing and collaboration?
JM: Normally, I'll come in with an idea or a piece of music or something that inspires me. I'll start choreography on my body. I'll, just sort of, okay, it feels like it wants to go this way and okay, where do you feel like you want to go from there? If it's a little bit stuck or it's not very clear, where do you want to go with it? Because somebody else is going to innately go in a different direction than I'm going to go. And sometimes it's, okay, does this make sense in the story? It's sort of just using what's in the room to hear their opinions and see what they think. And I'll actually use all of that. This time it's super different. I broke my ankle in November. I got hit by a car. So we haven't been able to use my body at all, so I have been fascinated in the sense of, I'm used to creating on my body and my body doesn't work at this moment. So I'm actually being more of a director and the idea, okay, what if you get stuck there and you move your body this way, what happens? And the amount of variations that are created by different people. And it's sort of been really beautiful because we're not limited by what my body innately wants to do and so it's been it's been a really interesting, totally collaborative experience.
JA: Do you have someone that demonstrates for you and that knows your movement style, knows what you're doing and can be your physical being since yours isn't at its best right now?
JM: When I'm setting work outside the company I for sure take one of them with me, but when it's the company we're just sort of all in there together, so… And most everybody that is doing this piece – it's not a full-company piece – one of the dancers has been my student since she was nine years old. She just turned twenty-six, so she knows me very well. She's a founding member of the company. There are two more founding members of the company, so they've been around for a long time. And then the other one's been around since 2012, so they know. They know a lot. So while it's been a little frustrating as a mover, it's been brilliant as a choreographer and a director. The movement that's come out is completely different than anything I would have done on me. So it's really fun to see where that goes.
JA: My next question is, of the work that you're presenting at Celebrate Dance, what is unexpected, but it sounds like you just answered that.
JA: Let's talk a little about your inspiration and your background, where you came from, who inspired you. Who are your heroes and role models?
JM: I grew up in Arizona and the person who started me dancing was my next-door neighbor (we're still friends to this day). I went to her first recital and sort of grabbed my mom by the neck and said, "I gotta do that!". She laughed at me 'cause I was a huge tomboy but put me in some dance classes. I grew up on the competition/convention circuit, so Joe Tremaine has been a huge influence in my life. I moved out to L.A. to get on scholarship with him when I was nineteen.
JA: Can you tell us who he is?
JM: Joe Tremaine owns Tremaine Dance Conventions. He probably had his 30-year anniversary maybe recently. He sort of revolutionized the convention/competition circuit. He made everything what it is today: the stages and the lights and the great sound systems and that kind of thing. And he had a studio in L.A. back at that time. The one thing I knew I could do was move to L.A. and audition for a scholarship so I moved to L.A. when I was nineteen and auditioned and got on his scholarship program.
JA: What kind of dance was that?
JM: Jazz, tap, ballet, hip-hop. The focus is — I like to call it, L.A.-izing you — so that you're a hirable, commercial dancer. So I sort of had my focus on the commercial world and did some jobs and some really great things there. I toured and taught with him on the convention circuit for about thirteen years. I assisted a man named Doug Caldwell and I spent a lot of time choreographing and learning from him. I danced in Liz Imperio's Instincts-Live Media Dance Company for about 4 years. I love teaching and I love educating, but dancing for her gave me that sort of amazing dance experience on a stage. Commercial dancing is really spectacular but you don't get to dance and sweat your heart out. So dancing for her was a really brilliant experience and I didn't know how deeply ingrained in me it was until a couple of years ago when I got the bug to start Solevita. So we had toured Europe and we had done all sorts of great things, Jazz World Congress a couple of years in a row, so it was a really brilliant eye-opener to the company world that I had not been that exposed to. So a couple of years later, people were asking me to present work, so I sort of formed an ensemble, just kind of like, grab dancers whenever I was asked, and then in 2011 Solevita was born.
JA: Your work is very modern. So how did you make that transition from the more L.A.- style of dance to the modern stuff?
JM: I have no idea. I just sort of create on me and it's just the movement that feels really good on my body. And I like to do things that I don't know how to do. It sometimes is a problem because people try to put you into a category or into a box. What sort sorts of choreography do you do? And I always want to do something that I've not done, that I'm not comfortable with, that I don't know how to do. A lot of ideas stem from that as well. You know, I always look at the dancers, and I'm like, How do you want to get off the floor? And they're like, like this and I'm like, so what happens if you go the other way?
JA: Were there any modern dancers or choreographers that inspired you? Or maybe it wasn't just dance – any other artists?
JM: I think inspiration is such an interesting thing. It comes from the most unexpected places. A man named Wes Veldink – he is in New York – he was in my life at a very integral coming-into-my-own, I guess. He is a choreographer. He sort of likes the "human" dancer, so that played a big part for me because I sort of say, I like human beings who do extraordinary things. I want to strip away the theatrical-ness of it and I want to see your human behavior in motion. He was a huge influence on me. And of course the Alvin Aileys and the Martha Grahams and the Bob Fosses – all of that provided inspiration for me. Two years ago when I went to Celebrate Dance – so in 2012 – I was really inspired by Invertigo Dance Company. I just thought she was very creative and interesting. And I'm really inspired by individuals. There are a couple of my dancers who move very un-Earth-like. I pick up inspiration everywhere. I go to museums – I live near LACMA [Los Angeles County Museum of Art]. I live near the beach.
JA: Do you think your company is unique to this city and if so, how?
JM: I hope I can't only be part of L.A. because part of my dream and my vision is to take it worldwide. But I do think… we're not flashy, "So You Think You Can Dance". We don't go for that – that's not our main vision, but I do think that we are in L.A. and we are influenced by commercialism and that "wow factor" and I think that probably feeds in – not consciously, it's probably very subconsciously – but I think it probably does seep in to that. And I think we have also started a film division of the company. We're making short, dance-based films. So I think, living in L.A. that sort of seems like a natural progression. But I do want to appeal to a worldwide audience and not just be in L.A.
JA: If audience members are seeing your Celebrate Dance performance for the first time, is there anything they should pay special to in order to really enhance their appreciation of it?
JM: I tend to like a lot going on [laughs]. I like a lot of levels, I like a lot of different people doing different things. So I would say, a wide eye – widening out and taking in a whole picture rather than maybe watching a singular dancer. I like a lot going on in life and in dance [laughs]. The dancers laugh at me: Oh, you guys have been dancing together for eight counts. We've got to split you up.
JA: Do you feel like there's a message in your work that you want to convey?
JM: In this particular piece, not necessarily. I think an audience gets whatever message they get. For sure in the past we have. I did a couple of pieces about equality, so for sure there was a message there. This is our opinion! But this piece is just, I'm going to say, art for art's sake — not necessarily trying to drive a point home. But I always like when people talk to me afterwards and tell me what they thought it was, what they got from it. Because I think it's so individual that I think maybe you create your own message from it and that's what you take away rather than what I'm saying.
JA: So, socially-conscious messages – is that something either inspires you or you feel is important?
JM: I definitely don't shy away from it, and the way I speak is through movement, but I don't feel like every single piece has to be a statement and a huge political movement. But if I have something to say, I will.
JA: Do you have some examples of things that were going on in the world that you put into your dance?
JM: Yeah, so I sort of say I have my life because of two gay men. I met my husband at their house and we got married in their backyard, so when all the stuff with Prop 8 was going on, I felt very strongly about creating something. So we did a piece called "All Included". Most times it was eight girls and they were dressed in half tuxedos and half bridal gowns that we put together. They spent the first part of the piece in profile, as brides or grooms. At one point they were all brides, at one point they were all grooms, and then it turned into all sorts of different couples: bride/bride, groom/groom and heterosexual couples. And then I did a piece called Near Light which was created completely from my experience with these two men that gave me my life and sort of the story of their relationship.
JA: What's next for you?
JM: We are working on a film project – I'm going to say it's more music video-style to a piece of Meg Myers music, so we're putting on the finishing touches on choreography for that, so hopefully we'll get that film in the can before April. We'll do a couple of fundraisers – I think that dance education is an amazing thing. I've been a teacher for most of my life. We do a fundraiser called "Move Your Sole" a couple of times a year. I bring in people from the industry and teach master classes and we use the proceeds from that as a fundraiser but meanwhile the kids are getting practice and education. We have a couple of other little shows coming up and then we'll put our full rep show over the summer.
JA: Thank you so much, Joelle Martinec. I look forward to seeing Solevita at Celebrate Dance.
JM: Thank you.
Photo © & courtesy of Denise Leitner Photography
Joelle Martinec in the studio
Photo © & courtesy of Francis Iacuzzi Photography
Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler