Interview: Maleek Washington
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Q: What has your professional dance journey been like, and how did you come to dance with Camille A. Brown and Dancers?

Pre-professionally, I went to LaGuardia High School. Camille choreographed my senior year (we could only perform in our senior year there). During high school, I also went to Harlem School of the Arts, Broadway Dance Center, Alvin Ailey for a semester, and Dance Theatre of Harlem for a semester. I went to college at Boston Conservatory but spent half a semester at the New World School of the Arts. I went to Jacob's Pillow during the summer, as well as Springboard Danse Montréal. After college, I was doing my first year at CityDance Ensemble, then went on to the José Navas company. From there, I went to Kyle Abraham. I got the job in April but I didn't start until June or July, and so then I danced with Loni Landon, Emery LeCrone, just as fillers for that space, and I loved that. There were a lot of good learning curves, too, because that was the beginning of The Playground NYC. Gregory Dolbashian and Loni Landon created a platform where you could take classes from all different choreographers and dancers for about $5. I danced for about 20 different companies before I joined Camille. I was always working with a lot of freelance artists as well. It was so incredible — I learned from so many people that allowed me to get to her. In dancing, I learned life is the best teacher. 

Q: Do you have any mentors or important people in your life that have shaped the way you dance and or think about dance?

I think the dance community as a whole inspires me — even right now, we are seeing everyone uplifting each other, being connected without physically being connected. Of course, my boss, Camille A. Brown. I’m in such close contact with her, and to see how driven and passionate she is pushes me to be even more passionate and engaged with my work.

Q: What have been some challenges in your pre-professional or professional dance career?
(Adversity as a minority artist…)

Injuries. Going through the phase of being the starving artist. If you are an artist who hasn't been through that, pray to the dance gods it doesn’t happen to you. But at certain points, I think everyone goes through that, where they just have to eat those ramen noodles. Also, always being on level 10, being in a company, it is hard to know when to take a break, especially when you're young and you just push through things. It can cause injuries or missing out on opportunities. I have had moments where I couldn't be at one of my best friend’s wedding because I had a show. That is hard sometimes, to pick a job over family.

Q: Do you believe dance can be a platform for social justice topics? If so, how? and/or Have you used your art form to make a difference?

Girl, you speaking my language. I am someone who is from an incarcerated family — my father, brother, uncles have all been incarcerated for over five years. I am lucky that through movement, I was able to break that cycle. On the path of my career, dancing for Kyle Abraham and being the first African American male in [Punchdrunk’s off-broadway show] ‘Sleep No More’, I had to factor in how people saw me and the representation of my identity on stage. I am making a work now about me and my father and the idea of isolation and mass incarceration — I have been working on that for three years.

Q: What inspires you and drives you forward as an artist and a person?

The idea that movement is always evolving, and there is always the space to evolve.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you as a performing artist?

Basically, it has put my entire life on hold. My tour was canceled with Camille. My teaching gigs were canceled. Everything was canceled. I have one paycheck and I’m living off that, waiting to see what happens next. But, I’m trying to be positive about it. I like to see the community coming together and working. Seeing everyone on social media interacting in class is so nice. 

When everything was canceled, I was in Austin, Texas. I had just got back from the tour, and they had canceled all my teaching gigs the day before. We are all on standby for the current tour. We were headed to North Carolina, Oregon, and Michigan. 

Q: What were your first initial reactions when things were getting canceled?

I thought, ‘How much can I save up?’ I saw the numbers, so I knew it was getting serious, and I checked in on my family members. People were freaking out and in a panic, thinking “Wow, we are all gonna get sick”, and people were not realizing how serious it was.

Q: What social changes and responsibilities have you seen people making during the pandemic?

It may hint at things we need to be more aware of. With less population outside, there is no more smog and the air and waters are cleaner. Being aware we are also more level on a race level too, now; we are all the human race. No one is exempt from this virus when looking at the biology of the person.

Q: Using the idea of “worldmaking” how do you imagine the performing arts world after the pandemic? (Worldmaking: How you can re-imagine the world in your own terms, the way you want it to be. Using this tool one can construct new worlds and write themselves into narratives that have excluded them and systems that have disabled them.)

I see more cross-collaboration; more boundaries of social norms and dance norms being crossed. I feel like we hint at it but don't really do it. I've seen shows that have amazing Flex dancers, but I've never seen an entire ballet of Flex dancers, like Lil Buck… At the end of the day, I would like to see the world engage more in real life and not this virtual world that we have now. 

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