Monday, July 15, 2013

Malcolm Low: Keep focused on what's important
Malcolm Low

Malcolm Low was selected in 2011 for a Choreographic Fellowship in Robert Battle’s New Directions Choreography Lab at Alvin Ailey. Originally from Chicago where he first trained with Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Company, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Homer Bryant and the Ruth Page Foundation, Malcolm went on to perform with Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Co., Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal, Ballet British Columbia, Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, Stephen Petronio, Complexions, Zvi Gotheiner and Dancers, Margo Sappington and most notably the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Co., where he spent 5 wonderful years and had the great pleasure of touring with Bill T. Jones on his solo show, As I Was Saying.  In 2005, Malcolm worked with Crystal Pite and her company, KIDD PIVOT, on the project, LOST ACTION. Malcolm has most recently worked with David Thomson on a new duet called Velvet that premiered at Roulette in February.  As a choreographer Malcolm has been showing work since 1999 at the River to River Festival in collaboration with DJ Spooky (2003), The House That Jack Built (2009), Catch n Release Variations #35 at Harlem Stage/Emoves (2009), Luscious Colors of an Unclear Canvas at the Wave Rising Series (2009) and (2011), Bookoo Space Grant (2011), Pushing Against Sisyphus at Brooklyn Arts Exchange (2011) and Summer Stage at Red Hook Park (2011). Malcolm was awarded a BAX Passing It Down Award (2011), a Fund for New Work/Harlem Stage Gatehouse Grant (2009), and in 2012 was awarded the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Grant. 

Malcolm Low (photo by Art Becofsky)
On learning to keep an open mind:

My brother, sister and I grew up in Chicago, where my father was a policemen and my mother was a school teacher. My family showed me that there was a variety of ways of thinking about things, not just one way.

Every Sunday and every Tuesday night, we went to church--at least my mother and the kids did. I remember leaving my father by the television, or he might be in the garage, working. One day I asked him why he didn't go to church with us. He said, "Oh, that's because your mother believes in the church and in God, and I don't. So, I don't go. But you guys are too young to decide. So, you have to go with Mom." 

His answer stuck with me. It showed me at age nine or so that different ideas can, and possibly should, coexist. 

I just said, "Cool. Okay, see ya later, Dad!"

On the irresistible theater of church:

For me, church was my first theater. This huge choir would march in to the music's rhythm. At a certain point, the choir would start singing low as the announcer started to speak for the television broadcast. At the end, they'd get loud again. Drama!

There was the usher with white gloves. He seated you and also acted as a barrier if anyone got the Holy Spirit and started dancing.

I first saw dancing, from an early age, in church. And they can dance. Old, young, short, tall, women, men. Everybody danced. But I never thought of getting into dance. My mother was hellbent on getting a musician in the family. So, we all had piano lessons at the house.

Everyone plays make-believe, and I was no different. I played Church. Everyday, I'd go to the living room, close the sliding door and become all the characters I saw in our church: the pastor, the choir marching in. I'd dance around. We call it Shout. Unbeknownst to me, my mother was listening. She came in and played Shout with me. Great times!

Soon after that, she decided that I should leave my all-boys high school--a horrible place--and go to a performing arts school.  Pretty soon, I was dancing all the time. My father would come to the local dance studio to see me, watching recitals in his full uniform. Very cool.

He paid $3,000 for me to go to Lar Lubovitch's summer workshop in Saratoga Springs because I had seen Lubovitch's company in concert in Chicago and had said, "That's how I want to look." Dancing gave direction to my directionless teenage mind. 

On the serendipity of auditioning for and joining Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal at age 18:

I had never been to an audition and was only there because some member of the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Company wanted to go and knew I had a boyfriend there at the time. Did I want to go see my boyfriend? Of course, I did!

My friend said, "Since you're here, why not audition?" So, I did and got the job. I was fearless. I didn't even know I was auditioning for some major dance company! 

When you're meant to do something, it comes to you. Mom says, "You can't miss your blessing. You will get ready." 

I was ready.

On developing a career and discovering--and being discovered by--New York dance:

My first professional show was at London's Saddler's Wells Theatre--before they fixed the raked stage. Oh, hey, I didn't know what a raked stage was. Whew, the terror I felt! 

But I danced flawlessly in works by Margo Sappington and James Kudelka. I set in motion a wonderful career of working with some of the best, most amazing choreographers, then went on to Ballet British Columbia. That's when my friend, Torya Beard, invited me to come to New York for the summer. I did and never left.

I took class at Dance New Amsterdam, a Kevin Wynn class, and asked Torya if I could get a job doing this stuff. She said, Yes. I called Ballet BC and said, "I'm not coming back." I had found modern dance. 

First up: Ronald K. Brown, followed by Zvi Gotheiner, Complexions, Stephen Petronio. 

And then I saw him: Bill. At Lincoln Center. Dancing to Jessye Norman. And I was like, "Him. Please. Him."

I had the opportunity to audition for Bill T. Jones and got it.

Dancing was the only thing in my life that, when I caught onto something in it, the answer was never No. It was always Yes. My confidence built up. I hadn't been great in school, but in this field I felt what it feels like to excel at something in a major way.

Bill teaches grace. He taught me how to be a man. How to stand up for yourself through articulating what you desire. I learned to speak, to use my words. To get in touch with who I am as a person, as a gay man and a human. Who am I? What do I believe?  He was the first to ask this. So I went on a five-year quest, looking for answers while dancing with him.

I will forever be grateful for what I learned from Bill--and what I continue to learn from him. Doing the As I Was Saying tour with him was a validation that, in this art, I can and will be able to lift myself up out of anything. Dancing saved--and is saving--my life.

On losing--and regaining--focus:

New York, New York. I was fired from Bill's company because I got reckless and got unfocused. New York can make you lose your mind if you are not focused.

I didn’t go to college, but joining the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company was pretty much like going to college! I hadn’t been around people who were free spirits and loving and open to trying things. 

I was fired because I was in a relationship that was not working, and it was affecting my work. I had to deal with a substance abuse issue taking over my life. Bill saved me by letting me go–the only thing that could be done at the moment. Weeks before he fired me, I told him that I’d had enough, that I was tired of not living at my fullest.

Right away, Crystal Pite of Kidd Pivot asked me to join her for a season in Canada to create a work called Lost Action.

At the time, I was between apartments, staying with several different people. She called and asked if I remembered her. Again, dancing saved my life. I left and had the most transforming experience to date. I got re-focused on the physicality of my dancing, not my story.

Crystal saw me struggling with something and told me to forget it and go to the movement. Let everything else be. She reminded me that I’m a Canadian-made dancer. I learned my ethics in the studio from the Canadians. So, being with her was like going home. It changed my life to be reminded to always go to the moves. I always look to the physical to tell the story.

Official trailer for Crystal Pite's Lost Action

Excerpts from Malcolm Low's One Forgotten Moment for Ailey II

Working with these companies and choreographers, I stored lots of information, and that info-ration serves me now as I venture into the second phase of my life and career--as a choreographer.

Ronald K. Brown, Stephen Petronio, Bill T. Jones, Crystal Pite, John Jasperse–they all gave me tools. I was gathering information on how to make work, how to throw stuff away, too. Now that I’m making my own work, it’s all rushing back to me. Crystal Pite is my strongest influence right now. The systems that I learned from her seem to be an endless well of information on making dances.

I'll never stop dancing. I'll always hire myself. Moving, and moving on the stage, is important for me: It's where I can continue to practice excellence and letting go, all at the same time.

On the acquittal of George Zimmerman:

The injustice sent down is so hard to swallow. They are after us; this is true. But they won’t prevail. We have been here just as long as the white man in this country. It is ours, too.  

The only thing I can do is to go deeper in my art, be as honest as I can be, show up for myself and for the work. It’s a way to have control over the things that I can control. 

I can control what I do. I choose to dive into my work and to push myself, not to just make dances but to really honor my craft. By doing exactly what I want, with no compromise, no holding back. 

I’m not a lawyer who can go deeper with the law or make changes that way, though that’s  very much needed. I’m an artist. So, I must speak the truth of the world through dance.  To live a brilliant life in the face of all of this. To shine.


Related: Dance Saved My Life! by Eva Yaa Asantewaa (July 8, 2013)

(c)2013, Eva Yaa Asantewaa, InfiniteBody

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