Brandon Collwes



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Are you trying to remember that now?
I think at this point, it's sort of ingrained in me. Really, the last year of his life and making Nearly Ninety, I'd been so accustomed to pushing myself in that way that I knew that if I was going to continue doing this—even without his direction—that I would have to continue doing it the same way. I'd have to really hold on to some of those things and remember what he wanted. And I think that that's the way I enjoy doing it, too. To be as physical with the work as you can. Keeps you young, too.

How do you mean?
It keeps your body young. And sometimes when you have different injuries here or there, for me, it works to work the muscles that are sore and to dig deeper into the things that are uncomfortable, because you can figure something out. And then eventually it does get easier and less awkward.

What was your adjustment to the company like?
It felt sort of natural. It was like, Let's go dance with these people that I'm also friends with. My first show was in Ottawa. It was Split Sides. I remember it being freezing and in those days when you got in, [the company was] gone. I was left with a list of dances to learn on my own. I think I had two or three days with the person whose parts I was taking over and then once the company came back, we were running the pieces from start to finish. You have an idea of the steps but there's always going to be someone that has a different idea about this or that. So no matter what, it was always like, "Nope, that's not right, this is," and you had to like fill your head with information really quick. The week before going to Ottawa, I think I'd only done Split Sides twice—I was joining with Emma Desjardins and we're both like, "You know, we need to do this again one more time because we feel like we don't know it." I think I continued to feel like that for a year. [Laughs] But when you're awkward, you're right in this work. If you try to make this movement into some sort of understanding in a lyrical way, you're not going to figure it out. When it's really difficult and weird, that's when you're on the cusp of doing it correctly.
And that's so related to what you were saying before about how you had to be on the exact count. How did the working method change once you were in the company?
It changed a lot. I didn't have the same kind of interactions with him. The process of starting out in the company—I got a lot more attention and I remember at a point though there being a transition of just being a member of his company, which felt a little bit lonesome. You didn't get to interact with him that much. And working with the RUGs was fine, but eventually those people are going to be in the company and they're going to go through the same thing and I think it's just a cycle that you kind of understand once you're there for a while. Then at that point, the work becomes more personal, and you have to take care of yourself within the work and keep yourself going, and remain interested in whatever is fascinating to you about that. You're not going to be prodded to do that; you have to do it on your own.

What was fulfilling about being a company member even though Merce wasn't in your life much?
The travelling and experiencing different cultures and performing under different circumstances was really fun for me. I really enjoyed doing the museum Events or doing something outside. There was always something on the horizon. Or a new piece that I was really excited about doing. Things like that kept me going.

What have been some important pieces for you?
The first piece that was made new when I was in the company, eyeSpace—I felt like the person's roles that I had taken over left a little bit of something to be desired. I came in at a transition point where they got rid of three pieces, and those were maybe the three pieces that I was more excited to do. I felt like some of the roles were really small, actually. I didn't get enough stage time. With eyeSpace, I was in that first quartet, which was so challenging technically, and I remember thinking, This is the first time I get to do a whole phrase. I get to be on for the whole thing. I really enjoyed that. You had to go really fast and then stand on one leg and hold it, and so I feel like that really helped me grow as a dancer. We did it so often. I always had a real nervousness about doing that piece. The other piece that I really enjoy doing is XOVER. It was nice because I got that duet with Emma, and we joined together. It was a little interesting time with the [introduction of] double-casting. It hadn't happened in a really long time that anything was double-cast. And so that wasn't the most enjoyable experience, to be honest; the information about who was going to do it didn't really become clear until the end of the process.

Why did they start double-casting?

I don't really know what happened. There's probably a lot more to that than I know, but initially I think that I was just called in to do it with Emma and the person teaching it was Daniel Madoff, who had just joined the company and who it was made on. And then there was a little bit of drama with Julie and her health, and I remember that being a difficult day for her. It kind of stayed ambiguous like that for a while, and we didn't really know what was going on and then once we found out it was double-cast, it made sense actually that he would enjoy seeing something different ways, and I totally embrace that idea. And then also once that process was over, which maybe wasn't that enjoyable, I felt like I had more freedom than maybe I would have had if it was just always mine. The way he was working with the man partnering the woman, and the woman partnering the man, was much more even. It was the first time I'd ever really done any work like that of his. The shared weight felt really new. So pushing that to the furthest place we could was really fun. We really worked on it. And I think he really enjoyed that.

What has this experience right now been like for you, performing without Cunningham?
It's been okay. There are a lot of things about the Legacy Plan that I would have though would have been different. When they started the actual two-year thing, I think they could have been a little more prepared. It was just so soon. I think they were jumping on the fact that there was a lot of press coverage and it was a good time to start it. I don't think we would have survived as a group. I think the group would have gotten smaller and smaller just because the economy was failing, and we already went through all the trouble with three members of the company leaving. In a way, I feel like it kept us together.

It kept the company afloat because there was work.

Totally. Of course I would prefer having an artistic director and having someone who could make a new work, which was always an important part of being a company member there, but it's been good because there's also been a whole influx of new material. Quartet I really loved doing. So there are elements about it that have been super positive, but I do think after this time is up, it's going to be a good end for me. I do want to dance more, but I want to be part of a process and I miss that. I miss that about dancing.

Do you have plans after that?
Not really. It's okay. [Laughs]

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