Malik Nashad Sharpe choreographs nationalism, gun violence, sexual assault and non-binary

Malik Nashad Sharp and Kam Wan in $elfie$

Malik Nashad Sharp and Kam Wan in $elfie$ - Credit: Archant

At Hackney Showroom, $elfie$ by Malik Nashad Sharp, aka marikiscrycrycry, talks about issues of nationalism, gun violence and the black, queer aesthetic

Malik Nashad Sharp. Picture: Ryan O'Donaghue

Malik Nashad Sharp. Picture: Ryan O'Donaghue - Credit: Archant

“I was always the weird one,” says Malik Nashad Sharpe, of their time in dance school. “I was always the one who was doing the weird thing in the corner. I would, in ballet especially, be doing my own thing. I was always interested in experimentalism in dance, always.”

Malik describes performing an undergraduate thesis that involved chatting to people on live-stream and throwing cereal around. Suffice it to say, the teachers didn’t really get it.

“There was no language for them to talk about my work. [They said] ‘Yeah it was interesting. It was good and yeah…great’. I was like: what does the work do? What is it doing? I need to talk about those things.”

Experimental choreographer Malik, who performs under the artistic name marikiscrycrycry, grew up in America but now lives and dances in London. Despite their work not necessarily being understood at school, Malik graduated with the highest honours in experimental dance and won an award for outstanding achievement in choreography at London’s Trinity Laban.

“I make work now that’s pretty hodgepodge, my movement style is pretty hodgepodge; it comes out of a space of experimentalism and experimenting with movement itself as a form. I never try to replicate.”

Their upcoming show at Hackney Showroom, $elfie$, explores themes of gun violence and national identity. It’s the third in a series of five personal pieces that Malik is creating around the theme of the black queer aesthetic.

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“It’s the longest work I’ve made and it’s the most robust,” they say. “It touches on nationalism, sexual assault, non binary-ness; it ritualises my brother’s incarceration and it talks about gun violence unashamedly. Obviously gun violence happens there with impunity, it just continues and continues. It never stops and it never ends. I wanted to bring all of those things into a conversation with each other and then suggest a future, or suggest a world in which those things can be transcended.”

While their previous shows in the series have been solo enterprises, for $elfie$, Malik has engaged the talents of Dalston Ballet collaborator Kam Wan, who isn’t a professional dancer, but who Malik describes as a strong talent who has “come to the material with such openness and understanding”.

“It’s interesting because I keep talking about these aesthetics that come from black, queer people and Kam’s British-Chinese – that introduces a whole other layer of meaning into the work.

“A lot of people would read the work and say ‘oh it’s not for me, it’s for black people or queer people,’ but actually I’m talking about how black and queer culture is embedded within all cultures.”

Their aim is to get people to look at the issues and experiences portrayed in the piece in a different light to that which appears in the media or on TV, using dance as an alternative medium to interpret messages.

“I’m trying to use [choreography] to get people to begin to look at the black body in a less objectifying, less violent way. I’m aiming to disrupt something about people’s perceptions of black, queer bodies.

“Choreography is amazing because a lot of it is pretty non linear. It’s not like a play. it isn’t telling you a story like a piece of theatre work would tell you. That’s why I love choreography, because it’s probably the least dogmatic form of art making for me. It’s hard to go into a dance show and be told exactly what it means, because it’s so ambiguous a lot of the time.

“That’s why I think it’s good to use choreography to talk about these difficult political things.”

An associate artist at Hackney Showroom, Malik co-curated the Joy & Dissent festival earlier in the year and has been developing their own work as the only resident choreographer.

“They’re really open and supportive of the things I’m doing. That’s the best thing I can ask for when I work in a space. It’s been so good for the development of my choreographic voice to have them because I can always go to them and say ‘I want to try this thing’ and they say ‘ok, let’s find a way to make that happen’.”

Despite familial links to America, Malik feels a strong connection to London, partly from their grandparents having lived here before moving to the United States. They also met their husband here. On top of that, Malik finds London a much more open place to create their work.

“The way that multiculturalism functions in London is better than I’ve seen anywhere in the world,” they say. “I get into this habit when I’m talking about the United States to be really rude about it because I’m so heartbroken by the failed promises of what it was. Everyone will have American flags in their yard but no one talks to each other.

“My partner and I are so different, he is super English! But somehow we find ways to connect with each other amidst our cultural difference and that’s something that is common for a lot of people here. People are like, yeah we’re different, so what? I think that’s something that’s very unique, and seems like a great place to make my work from.”

$elfie$ is at Hackney Showroom on Monday November 27 at 8pm.