Malik Nashad Sharpe is a visionary artist that creates live choreographed shows, combining intensely visceral style with pop culture references to expose how inequalities and exploitation of marginalised communities are ingrained in our society.
Alongside partnerships with media brands like Dazed & Nowness and consulting for high profile venues (e.g. Fairview at Young Vic, The Glow at Royal Court), Nashad Sharpe is due to take their show He’s Dead to the Battersea Arts Centre this March.
He’s Dead is a dark fantasy, conceptual choreography exploring the question: “Was Tupac depressed? Using dance, text and striking visuals, the show delves into the unspoken surrounding mental health in the Black community. Underscored by a brooding hip-hop soundscape, the show is a struggle for, and expression of, what it means to be human – yet to be fighting for your humanity constantly.
We spoke to Malik to find out more…
Please introduce yourself?
I’m Malik Nashad Sharpe and I’m a Vincentian-American/British choreographer and artist based in London. I was born in New York. I work with movement in different contexts. Outside of making my own choreographies, I do movement direction for theatre, dance in music videos and commercial contexts, write poetry and non-fiction texts, model, teach, etc.
Please share a word or sentence which best describes your life right now.
Truly hectic, a little unrooted, but no major complaints
He’s Dead explores the question, “Was Tupac depressed?” What was the first Tupac track you ever listened to? Do you remember where you were and how you felt listening to it?
Keep Ya Head Up feels like the first…but the one that was most impactful for me was So Many Tears. We didn’t have the same life, but some of the struggles he talked about really spoke to a younger me. I knew there was someone out there who was making something out of his sadness instead of giving up, or ignoring it.
What was/ is the significance of Tupac to you? Do you think society has appropriately memorialised him?
He was a good example of a really public Black figure who did not shy away from stating, sometimes controversially, his perspectives about being Black, and he wasn’t afraid of being negative or talking about dark shit. He was one of the saddest poets with a microphone. He turned his depression into something profitable. And the world ate it up, without even noticing really what he was saying. So the short answer is: ‘No.’
The central theme of He’s Dead is the unspoken surrounding mental health in the Black community. Why were you motivated to explore this theme in your art?
I just felt that all I was seeing is Black people struggling with the weight of mental health yet it was not being spoken about on any larger scale than within our community. But when it comes to the platforming of our culture or the amplification of our words, I felt there were no significant changes in the experiences of violence that we see constantly happening towards us. Tupac was a good example because most of the interviews he did around the time Me Against the World was released, an album filled with dark and deeply sad lyrics and lines, not one interviewer was interested in his mental health struggles, or probed the lyrics as indicative of any mental health struggle. It was much more profitable to sensationalise his life. But to speak about his sadness? There is one interview where he says something like “No one is helping me”
It spoke volumes to me, and it’s been thirty years since he said that.
Do you think there is a clear solution to opening up conversations about mental health in the Black community
Not at all. I think we can’t really treat Blackness as if it’s a monolithic experience–There is a huge diversity in being Black and that is a strength of it. However, I do think if we see more Black people publicly speaking about their thoughts, struggles, and feelings around mental health–we might get somewhere interesting. I really just want Black people to talk more openly about their feelings (particularly the negative or darker ones!) and less about our admirable collective strength to endure endless amounts of grief and pain. It is a given that we are strong and resilient. But what are we really feeling?
Your work is a combination of dance, text and striking visuals. Tell us more about your artistic practice. How do you go from conceptualising to actually realising your ideas?
It always starts with the thoughts that I have when I’m dancing either in the studio, at a rave, in a club, etc. working physically allows me to think about the possibility of things, and it also helps me to think clearer. If I don’t dance for three days my thoughts are jumbled and going in all directions. So it usually starts with going to the body, and dancing to the music that I am listening to at any time. I like to make the movement first and then think about the context it sits in afterwards. The conceptual process is born out of my movement practice, and it’s always the more difficult bit. It’s easier because when you are in the studio, it doesn’t matter what the dance looks like at the start. It is just about getting it out and getting it going, aligning your body with your brain and your heart. I take a long time looking at documentation of the dancing that I’ve made and try to figure out what it might be saying, craft it. I ask questions for months and months like – ‘what is the mood of this material?’ ‘What are the potentials for the atmosphere around it?’ ‘What is its nature?’ It takes me a little over a year to fully realise an evening-length work.
Who/ what would you say are the key influences on your choreography?
I am interested in all forms of dance that stems from Black communities and inspired by my own culture and experiences within that. I like to work with dances that are from the social context, dances that have proliferated across the Internet, but also the weird little dances I concoct when no one is watching in the studio. Other influences include music videos, zombie T.V., Butoh, physical theatre, and everyday shit. Sometimes I’ve been inspired by seeing how someone walks down the street. I really be like, “Damn I could watch a whole section of the show looking at just that.“
Do you think dance is a particularly powerful medium through which to explore unspoken issues, such as mental health in the Black community?
I do. It is the real reason I am working with dance because it is so humanising–dancing is a ritual that has been practised by humans for so long and across all cultures. It begs us to look at the body turning shapes and rhythms, into an emotional and cathartic experience. And sometimes I think some things are better left unsaid…not to say we shouldn’t try and speak about it, but we should also try to sing it, dance it, paint it, think it, and we do this already, but transcend it.
How do you hope audiences will respond to He’s Dead?
With all of my works, my goal is to really create a space of reflection for the audience. And to do something that is visually powerful, moving, punchy. I love the feeling when the audience is left with questions, and a barrage of emotional affect, rather than skipping to solutions and conclusions. The issues I bring up in my work are much more complicated and deserve thought and enquiry.
Have you got any other projects on the horizon that you’re excited about?
So many. I am premiering a new work called High Bed Lower Castle with Ellen Furey in Montreal and I can’t say yet but it will be very exciting. I have two big group works with 5 (We Happy But We Broken) and 9 dancers (I Got Them Bands on Me) respectively on the horizon that I am hoping to finish this year, for premieres next year. Those are taking a while because the casts are larger than what I’ve worked with before! And otherwise, I am still touring He’s Dead, and my other works (SOFTLAMP. autonomies, Hotter Than A Pan) etc.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU
- A book you have to have in your collection? you are a little bit happier than I am by Tao Lin and Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong.
- A song / album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? Right now, anything by BoofPaxkMooky, 1600j, Flipphoneshwty, Texako, Bali Baby, Dirty Bird, Babyxsosa, etc. Recently I’ve been listening to Janet Jackson, particularly 20. Y.O, and All For You. I was an Emo kid growing up, so naturally My Chemical Romance, Dir en Grey, All American Rejects, etc, always have a place in my heart.
- A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? I’m obsessed with All of Us Are Dead, which is a Korean Zombie Thriller, Real Housewives of Potomac, and the dark fantasy anime Akame ga Kill!
- The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you (play, dance or concert)? Revelations by Alvin Ailey, when I was really young. First dance I ever saw. It made me go home and try to make a dance with my brother and sister. The first concert I ever went to was Dir en Grey, a Japanese metal band that truly defined my aesthetics and poetic outlook as a teenager. Best concert of my life to this day.
- What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? – The possibility of a large-scale war in Europe is really, really sad. We have no real leaders in the world. Needless deaths make me angry especially since it’s all over social media and the Internet. There is something so inhumane about our world. Its fucking sad. In good news, I became a British citizen this week–ending an entirely difficult process of imposter syndrome, not belonging to anywhere, and extortionate expenses. I’m so glad to draw that chapter to a close, for now–lest the Borders Bill renders my citizenship invalid and second-rate.
He’s Dead plays at Battersea Arts Centre from Wednesday 16th March-Saturday 2nd April. Find out more and book tickets here.
All tickets are Pay What You Can, so people can choose a price that works for them. Every performance is Relaxed. At BAC this means you can move, make noise, or take breaks, visit our ‘chill out’ room, and wear our ear defenders if you need to.
Thursday 31 March, 7.30pm – Sensory Adapted performance: at BAC this means loud sounds & intense lighting, including flashing lights, will be softened and the audience will not be in the dark
Friday 1 April, 7.30pm – Captioned performance: at BAC this means there will be a screen showing text which describes the performance, including dialogue
Keep up to date with Malik Nashad Sharpe here