Brandon Collwes

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What was it like just living in New York for a summer?
It was crazy. I just remember not knowing where I was, ever. I had some roommates that were dancers from Pittsburgh that I sort of knew, but I wasn't really close with either, and they were much older than me. I made some friends at the school and got to see a lot of the free dance stuff. I think that was the first time I saw Cunningham; they did Lincoln Center. So I was exposing myself to a lot and taking a lot of different ballet classes and as soon as I got back, I just hated Pittsburgh even more. I totally wanted to get out.

Did you have a plan?
Not really. I just felt like I wanted to dance in a concert dance company. I didn't know what that meant, to be honest. I don't think I really figured anything out direction-wise until I went to ADF, which I did the next summer. Same thing: I got a scholarship. After ADF, I was exposed to more and had a better idea of what I wanted to do and I knew that the ballet thing, truly, wasn't what I wanted to do at all. The whole narrative and the acting part of it just didn't appeal to me.

Who did you study with at ADF?
The first year, I was with Mark Haim. Also, I worked with these really amazing Chinese choreographers from Guangdong: Li Hanzhong and Ma Bo, and they were married. They completed each other's choreographic sentences. That was great because I got to dance in this huge production. The idea of the piece was that there was something going on in the news in China that was affecting their local village and they didn't really have any information about what was really going on until they went to Australia. And then once their eyes were opened to international press and they realized how much is suppressed in the media there, they had this reaction to it and made a piece. It was pretty cool. I think I was in a suit and stripped to a dance belt. It was one of those like full-on performing weird experiences. It was good.

Did you take any Cunningham classes there?
They didn't have Cunningham. I took a Trisha Brown class. I worked with Gerri Houlihan too, which was really cool. She danced for Lar [Lubovitch] for a really long time and her class is so nice. Sort of Limn-based too. That was my summer in between sophomore and junior year. During my junior year I was just really wanting to get out of Pittsburgh, so I came up with this idea that I was going to take a leave from high school with intention of getting my GED. I was going to audition at Juilliard. I got a job at Dancing Through Barriers, Dance Theatre of Harlem's second company, because my ballet teacher at home danced there and had a good connection. Once I found out that I got into Juilliard, I quit Dancing Through Barriers because I hated it. It was like the worst thing ever. I also didn't really fit in. These were people who really want to be ballet dancers and I was so good at that at that time that people prodded me to really pursue something like that, but I was always like, It's not for me.

That's cool to have that knowledge of yourself.
Yeah. So I got into Juilliard.

What was that audition like?
It was strange. I remember showing up ten minutes late—I didn't really know how to get there and I remember being like, Oh my God, this is ridiculous. I had my tights under my jeans so I was ready to go. I put on my white shirt in the hall and they were calling everyone in and I was like, Oh crap. What an idiot. Everyone else had their parents there.

By the way, did you have to talk your parents into this?
Sort of. [Laughs] I think they just knew that I was stifled where I was. They always thought, We'll let him try something and if it doesn't work then there's always something else.

So back to the audition.
I made it through the first cut, which is just the ballet class. Then I did my first solo and I got a bloody nose at the end of it. It was sort of awesome. There was blood on my little white shirt. I felt really like mortified that that had happened, of course, and I was stressing really bad and then the rest of the day just went on. I did my second solo, no blood. Had a second white shirt, it was cool.

Did you have nosebleeds a lot when you danced?
No. This was totally like random January, radiator-dry weather. I don't know. [Laughs]

Do you remember your solos? Did you choreograph them yourself?
I choreographed one of them and it was to something from the Trainspotting soundtrack. And the other one, a dance teacher from my high school had choreographed for me. Neither were classical whatsoever. I'm sure there was a layout.

I like layouts.
[Laughs] Why not?

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