As a dance historiographer, Shaw is principally interested in how dance functions as a prism for strategies of power and a training ground for resistance to those oppressive structures and operations. He posits that dance ossifies black-white race relations in 17thcentury England, France, and America, and explores their parallels with and causality for contemporary race relations.
Following upon his role as co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Dance, Brandon has turned to how the branding of Shakespeare, because of its cultural capital and association of white heteronormativity, has served not only as a foil but also a chaperone for subversive choreographic readings of the Shakespeare project. His current book project, “We must have you dance”: Choreographic Rendings of Romeo and Juliet, explores politically-aggressive rendings (as opposed to renderings that strive for textual fidelity) of Romeo and Juliet. The monograph analyzes choreographies by Rennie Harris’ (2000), Dada Masilo’s (2010), and Jessica Nupen’s (2015) Romeo and Juliets, which tear past the classical veneer to address black and queer experiences. These are compared with Lavrovsky’s (1940), Cranko’s (1962), MacMillan’s (1965) supposedly more faithful renderings. Shaw argues that, while the global cultural commodification of Shakespeare ostensibly provides an exploitable branding to marginalized groups, Africanist understandings of Romeo and Julietestablish a camaraderie with Will. As Rennie Harris put it, “Shakespeare was a DJ.” “We must have you dance”argues that a materialism-oriented (neo-historicist) approach to Romeo and Juliet, accounting for conditions of textual production and theatrical performance practices alongside more panoramic considerations of social milieu, demonstrates resemblances between Africanist and early modern European performance strategies.
Viewing ballet as fundamentally a vernacular form, Shaw compares the “balletification” of rustic and foreign dancing to contemporary Euro-American white-washing of black vernacular dance forms. His research into the roots of ballet investigates early modern European body culture ancillary to dance, including medical, anatomical, and artistic renderings of the body, as well as special attention to fencing manuals and practices of the time. As an inheritor of formation of ballet in the early modern period, Classical ballet has an adoring-abhorring relationship with the vernacular forms upon which it is based, and it taxonomizes measures formulated to distance aristocracy from lower social classes and also encounters with African dances.