Interview with Brandon Shaw

Brandon, can you describe what you do? And why?

I am a choreographer with a background in contemporary styles of dance and martial arts. I am the artistic director of Cleave, a dance-theatre group forming here in Malta. With Cleave I’m looking for an amalgam of ‘movers’ with diverse trainings including contemporary dance, martial arts, gymnastics, ballet and physical theatre.

The work is often quite hard-hitting. Through physical conditioning and careful choreography, we’re able to push limits of what you might see on a stage. That being said, I am very committed to the dancers’ safety.

I wouldn’t say I’m terribly interested in making political pieces, but I am very interested in people and clusters of people. I also work at the University in the Dance Studies department, where I teach in the studio and the classroom. So, yes, I’m a thorough dance nerd. I’ve always been fascinated by the human body and have always been very physically active. I’ll often trade off focus upon dance or martial arts. Kinetic knowledge is valid from both fields and I apply what I’ve learned from martial arts to partnering in dance. I’m interested in how the momentum from throws, limitations of joint manipulation, and connection through sensing hands exercises can lead to partnering that is sensitive, dynamic, and safe.

In your opinion, what is the artist’s role in society?

The thing I like to experience most from people after they see my work is that brimming over and volleying of ideas. I’m not excessively concerned with them ‘getting’ what I was trying to say. I want to see the creativity contagion spread.

That being said, I think artists need to be models not only of questioning and saying ‘no’, but also vulnerability and proffering solutions.

What’s your favourite piece of work that you have created?

I’d say my favourite piece I’ve created was Wake. It works with different connotations of wake: that wedging V following a boat, waking up and the overnight visitation before a funeral. I’m fascinated with that transition from life into death, which I think of as relinquishing and as a dispersion. Wake is one of the pieces I’m looking forward to working on immediately.

Do you admire any artists / dancers? (famous or not)

I love sculpture: Rodin, Michelangelo, Rachel Whitehead, Louise Bourgeois, Bruno Catalano.

Chagall and happy love.

Random stuff: the word ‘cleave’ captured me because it is a contronym (a word that has opposite meanings): it can mean to cling to or to separate from. José Limón’s Fall-and-recovery technique, which uses gravity to find levity, was formative for me. I’ve also trained in tai chi, and the martial art shows its Taoist roots in how it maintains that opposites are united, however deeply. There is a speed in slowness, a rising in falling, a proximity that only comes about through distance. Cleave explores that solution choreographically, directing it to human interactions. What is the love in hate? The solitude in companionship? The courage in cowardice?

For me, choreography is a lot about letting go. I cut a lot of material. Dancers might not perform something how I coached it. I go into the studios with a lot of ideas and patterns, and those might not work. Or they might work fine, but someone makes a beautiful mistake that inserts a sliver of humanity into this fantasy that happened alone with a sketchbook.