Paul Sadot
Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 1



This research explores the potentiality of hip hop dance theatre (HHDT) performers to challenge mainstream conventions in UK contemporary dance theatre, and how choreographic practice in this field might be practically re-configured and theoretically reconceptualised to evolve new performance-making practices, empower performers and challenge mainstream representations of HHDT. In this way I examine my concern to involve dancers more in HHDT processes and my interest as an artist in trying to bring this about through innovative strategies employed in the studio.

My initial research focused on the performance space of HHDT and what occurred within it, and I was primarily concerned with the physical space of the studio and performance setting. However, it very quickly became clear to me that multiple components were at play that influenced and defined these spaces, and that a dialogic interplay between sociocultural, political, economic, historical and temporal circumstances resonated within them. It is useful to note at the outset that I use ‘space’ as a hybrid, interchangeable term. In the first instance, I use it to refer to the studio and performance ‘space’ where the dance practice occurs. From this physical ‘space’ where the dance takes place comes the second conceptual use of the term, applied in discussions of the wider sociocultural and political ‘space’ in which dance products, performances and events circulate. I argue that this ‘space’ defines dancers’ mobility, impacting on ‘how they move’ physically and politically in implicit and explicit ways. It is both an abstract and a concrete dialogic space. From these interrelated spatial dynamics arises the term ‘metaspace’, which I have applied throughout this research to signify a unified concept of ‘space’ as a complex domain of negotiation in HHDT.

The thesis investigates a hybrid choreographic methodology that emerged through the creation of one major performance, a series of exploratory micro projects and a final exposition of practice. The large-scale performance piece entitled BLOCK was shown at Cambridge Junction Theatre (16 November 2015), University of Chichester (18 January 2016) and Manchester Contact Theatre (21 January 2016). Two exploratory micro projects followed BLOCK, the first taking place at Manchester Contact Theatre (2, 3 April 2017) and the second at Praxis Studios in London (5, 6, 7 May 2017). The final exposition of practice took place at the University of Chichester (8 January 2018).

The initial large-scale performance piece BLOCK engaged with multiple components to inform the creation of choreography, including a scenographer, a blogger and a commissioned writer. This project acted as a scoping exercise through which I observed and evaluated my conventional and habitual modes of working as an artist in the field of HHDT. It enabled me to reflect on my processes situated within the socioeconomic, political, historical, cultural and institutional context in which UK-based HHDT operates, and makers and performers work. This approach proposed and facilitated a number of outcomes and routes that were then unpicked, distilled and assessed through two subsequent micro projects.

Research Aims

This research examines what might be achieved choreographically with hip hop dancers in the space of UK dance theatre if the present structures that define HHDT are challenged. It does not attempt to claim authenticity for any of the current modes of hip hop practice, but instead searches for a new method of creating and presenting work. The research seeks to challenge existing theoretical, processual, technical and aesthetic paradigms informing the making and reception of HHDT. In doing so, it explores through theory and practice the potential of new methods and presentational formats to perform within and against institutional and presentational norms, and considers the role of what I call the choreodramaturg (see ‘Key terminology’, below) as an agent of change within these negotiations.[1]

Research Questions

  • How might an understanding of institutional discourse inform the creation of a new processual and choreographic approach in HHDT?
  • How might choreodramaturgically led practices of turbulence, hindrance and displacement develop new choreographic outcomes for hip hop dance artists in the space of UK dance theatre?
  • How might the ‘unsteady state condition’ be applied in practice to test the creative and performative potential for HHDT performers as they move from the improvised circle (cypher) to the formalised performance space?
  • What new creative processes might emerge?

In the very early stages of my research, my intuition as a practitioner drew me towards the notion that the HHDT process and product was geared towards commodification and, as such, induced compliancy in its performers. I acknowledge that this may to some degree have been informed by my previous work as a mentor on Breakin’ Convention’s Open Arts Surgery artist development programme. Breakin’ Convention is a Sadler’s Wells project, which runs the annual International Festival of Hip Hop Dance Theatre in London and HHDT training programmes throughout the UK and more recently in locations such as Canada and America.[2] After working sporadically over three years in three different UK cities as a professional mentor on Breakin’ Convention’s emerging artist training programme Open Art Surgery, I began to recognise a formulaic, de-politicising process revealing itself (discussed in detail in chapter 2).

Subsequently, the space afforded by my doctoral research practice drew me once again to reflect on the prevalence of dominant formulaic patterns. I perceived these to have become embedded into the aesthetics, staging and movement of HHDT and questioned the impact of these formulas on the way in which HHDT moved. In response, I conceived my research project as a reflexive and reflective space of moving and thinking about HHDT making. This enabled me to unpick some of the conditions and drivers behind the evolution of homogenised HHDT products, and to reflect on some of its artistic and material processes, which appeared to enforce convention rather than break it. In this space of research, practice, movement and politics coincided, catching me somewhat offguard, as my thoughts and intentions going into my PhD had never been ostensibly political, at least not explicitly, in a pre-meditated way. Yet perhaps the nature and history of my work as a practitioner has etched an embodied labyrinth of implicit political intuitions into my way of working. Therefore, it is possible to acknowledge that the negotiation between the HHDT model and my work with hip hop dance artists in the space of UK dance theatre brought this tacit understanding to the surface, encouraging if not forcing it to seek a critical voice.

This thesis examines practice and theory, and references film material and images of projects that took place and formed the locus of my research. The in-text hyper-links take the reader directly to the media source cited.

Hip Hop Dance Theatre

The term hip hop theatre arose in the 1990s and early 2000s, referring to particular dance and theatre artists whose work had its roots in hip hop culture.[3] In the UK the genesis of this movement was led by three notable artists, Benji Reid, Jonzi D and Robert Hylton, all of whom emerged from the battle cyphers[4] associated with hip hop’s historical foundations. These artists first encountered hip hop culture as teenagers in the early 1980s, as it passed from the USA into British culture via early videos such as Buffalo Gals (1984) and the film Wild Style (1983).[5] Here, graffiti art, concepts of wild style[6] and breaking heralded a political, corporeal and cultural ‘coming of age’ through hip hop (Jonzi D, interview with the author, 14 December 2014). During the late 1970s, and early 1980s breaking was considered the purest form of hip hop dance, a belief has long been held by many dancers (Chang, 2005). Viewed retrospectively, the physical demands of breaking emerging in the 1970s and 1980s appear far less complex than contemporary iterations, yet movements that are now considered as foundational to the form, such as top rock, freezes, backspins, six step and swipes, originated during this period (Chang, 2005). During the early decades of its development (1970s and early 1980s) older funk dance styles, such as locking and popping, became merged into hip hop dance as the scene expanded its territory and gained notoriety via an increasing media interest.

In the evolution of 21st century contemporary practice, rather than solely involving breaking, hip hop dance can be viewed as being made up of ‘collective texts’ (Huntingdon, 2007: 41), an expansive lexicon of movement styles that inform hybrid adaptations, collectively residing under the banner of hip hop dance. Locking, popping and, more recently, krump have been incorporated into this arena in the UK scene. Thomas DeFrantz describes hip hop dances as an ‘aggressively layered array of shapes assumed by the dancing body […] an assertive angularity of body posture and an insistent virtuosic rhythmicity’ (2004: 9), while Carla Stalling Huntington asserts that the freezes, spins and splits of the 1972 Waak dance style provided the basis for the development of early breaking (2007: 39). It is undeniable that the corporeal history of hip hop is highly complex and contested among practitioners and scholars alike. Ethnomusicologist Jonathan D. Williams argues that ‘it is virtually impossible to clearly and succinctly define what authenticity means in the context of hip-hop’(2007: 4),while author and curator of the Cornell hip hop Collection, Johan Kugelber, puts it more succinctly, saying that the history of hip hop is a ‘riddle wrapped inside an enigma stuffed inside a mystery hidden in a sock’ (cited in Schloss, 2009: 125). However, I am not concerned with analysing these historical labyrinths in-depth but rather wish to examine emergent HHDT in contemporary practice.

The physical extremes achieved by today’s breakers, where power moves and acrobatics play a large role, were not yet conceived of in the generative years of the UK hip hop theatre pioneers, but the dynamic and rhythmic physicality of their ‘generational narrative’ (Chang, 2005: 118) remains as powerful as any. The fluidity of being ‘in the music’ is a hallmark of Hylton and Reid’s dancing, while Jonzi D achieves the same dynamics through the spoken word.[7] Interestingly, Reid, Jonzi D and Hylton went on to attend contemporary dance conservatoires in the 1990s while actively battling on the UK underground hip hop scene. Reid was a member of the renowned Broken Glass Crew from Manchester, and a world ranked European body-popping champion before attending the Northern School of Contemporary Dance. Hylton, hailing from North East England, attended the same conservatoire while battling on the UK underground hip hop dance scene, as a dancer with a focus on locking and popping. Meanwhile, Jonzi D was training at London School of Contemporary Dance while actively participating in the UK underground scene rapping as an MC. In the mid-1990s, feeling that hip hop’s political voice had been ‘hijacked by the music industry’ (Jonzi D, interview with the author, 14 December 2014), these artists each sought to rediscover a political voice by ‘combining music and the language of breaking and body popping with the theatricality of text and movement theatre’ (Reid, interview with the author, 25 June 2015), to create hip hop theatre. The subject matter that inspired the work of these UK innovators was informed and shaped by issues of exclusion, displacement, discrimination and marginalisation. With maverick intentions, these pioneering artists entered the space of UK hip hop, contemporary dance and theatre to proclaim the arrival of a new form that was to leave a lasting and continuing legacy (this work is discussed in detail in chapter 2).

Following this early period in the form’s evolution there has been a growing body of written work about hip hop theatre (Davis, 2006; Hoch, 2006; Hodges-Persley, 2015; Osborn, Kearney and Fogarty, 2015). These discussions extend to include the micro-expression of particular forms that emerge from hip hop theatre, for example McCarren (2013) and Shapiro (2004) discuss the French ‘hip hop ballet’ and ‘hip hop concert dance’, while Osumare discusses Afro-American artist Rennie Harris as a ‘hip hop concert choreographer’ (2009: 261). Yet little attention has been paid to the uniquely British form of HHDT, and no research to date has examined the UK institutional framework in which it has evolved, equally the impact of the institutional environment on the corporeal and aesthetic manifestation of the form has been under explored. Existing articles on HHDT focus on its institutional legitimisation (Prickett, 2013), while others briefly touch on it in wider debates about hip hop theatre and hip hop (Fogarty, 2011; Hoch, 2006; Uno, 2006).

In my research I distinguish clearly between hip hop theatre, as a generic term used to capture the work of hip hop artists making theatre around the globe, and the term HHDT, a ‘terminological change’ (Shapiro and Heinich, 2012: 5) instigated and adopted by Sadler’s Wells Theatre in 2003 for the launch of their project Breakin’ Convention International Festival of Hip Hop Dance Theatre. The project’s artistic director, Jonzi D (David Jones), chose the name HHDT to differentiate the work from hip hop theatre: ‘because there’s a focus on dance’ as the primary element when creating theatre (Jonzi D, interview with the author, 14 December 2014).[8] Therefore, I use the term HHDT to denote a form or brand that has emerged in the UK under the supervision of Sadler’s Wells’ project Breakin’ Convention. Performance works such as ZooNation’s Into the Hoods: Remixed (2016) and Avant Garde Dance’s RUSH (2014) are pertinent and notable examples.

It is possible to argue that, since 2004, influences beyond the explicit realms of Sadler’s Wells supervisory structures have contributed to the growth in popularity of HHDT. Here we might consider the surge in televised dance competitions, YouTube videos and dance for screen works which have included films by Barbican Theatre associate company and Arts Council England (ACE) National Portfolio Company (NPO), Boy Blue. Boy Blue’s 2013 show Emancipation of Expressionism became a set piece on the UK GCSE Dance syllabus in 2016, “the first hip hop dance theatre piece to be included” (Stendall, 2019). Here then, it might be concluded that these events have contributed to the popularity of HHDT. However, my thesis does not contest the popularity of HHDT but rather, it questions the commercially driven manifestations of the form that derive from these collective circumstances. I argue that the imperatives of the UK’s cultural industry and its supervisory structures place HHDT in stasis rather than contributing to its development. Supporting this analysis, I have identified a patrimonial and legitimising network in HHDT (discussed in detail in chapter 2.6.), a circuit of ACE -funded organisations which have supported, mentored and funded the four HHDT NPO companies of which Boy Blue is a part. Another possible influence worth noting is Rennie Harris, who is described as a ‘hip hop concert choreographer’ (Osumare, 2009: 261). Harris’ USA based company Puremovement toured the UK in 2001 with Rome and Jewels, a hip hop re-imagining of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The show was produced and staged within the same structural framework I describe as problematic in the productions of companies like ZooNationdeploying virtuosic movement within a classic Western narrative. This suggests that a parallel theatrical structure was developing in the USA, in Harris’ work at least.


Soon after Alistair Spalding was appointed artistic director of Sadler’s Wells, he set out his clear intentions for the organisation, declaring, ‘You’ve got the National Theatre for drama, English National Opera for opera and I want Sadler’s Wells to perform the same function for contemporary dance’ (Higgins, 2005). These words, invoking concepts of monolithic national and artistic values in the UK high arts continuum, heralded the rise of Sadler’s Wells Theatre to a position as one of the UK’s prominent cultural and artistic gatekeepers for contemporary dance. The funding of these gatekeeping institutions is directly linked to Conservative government prerogatives, which are explicitly ‘increasing investment to organisations that produce and present art of international significance, and that also contribute to tourism and the local economy’ (Hill, 2014).

It can be argued that these artistic policies, driven by the corporate economisation of the arts, produce a simulacrum of culture and democracy. Here, I draw on Jean Baudrillard’s (1994) notion of simulacra as simulations of reality, to infer a situation in which divergent cultures are being driven out of London by dominant economic factors linked to gentrification. In the place of these displaced communities and cultural manifestations arises a manufactured version of multiculturalism, neatly packaged and tourist friendly. This simulacrum arises from a dialogic relationship between dominant forces that drive London’s development, urbanisation, cultural industry ambitions and multinational capitalism ranking among them. These strategies are evident in new developments such as the East Bank Cultural District, which I discuss in chapter two. Furthermore, government-driven artistic policies appear to have a symbiotic relationship with a rapidly gentrifying London, raising concerns for artists making work in the UK. This not only impacts on the artists’ basic economic survival in London but also creates an environment where the little funding that is available is increasingly linked to supervisory demands and legitimising frameworks aimed at capitalisation and cultural tourism.

My practice research focuses on one of these enclaves, hip hop dancers in the space of UK contemporary dance theatre. Many of these artists, such as Christina Dionysopoulou, have expressed growing concern and frustration towards a system that proposes a meritocracy based on national economic growth rather than the artistic voice.[9] It is a system that jeopardises free artistic expression in the UK by explicitly tying public arts money to non-artistic governmental concerns.

The London-based hip hop dance artists’ collective Artists4Artists, headed by Joseph Toonga and Lee Griffiths, was formed in late 2016 to debate and strategise against these prevailing conditions. Artists4Artists was striving for greater autonomy rather than having to rely on the precarious support of Breakin’ Convention, which they felt focused too much on the work of international, rather than national, HHDT artists. Yet by the close of 2018, the work of Artists4Artists had in my opinion shifted towards being a model of human capital, industry-driven programme of activities, and in doing so drifted away from the collective’s initial independent, artistically driven agenda. Funded primarily by Arts Council England (ACE) and describing themselves as part of the UK dance industry, in 2018 Artists4Artists organised workshops such as Identity, Ideas, Industry and Dance + Industry. Additionally, they offered boot camps (intensive workshops for emerging and young dancers) to upskill ‘hip hop creatives with artistic and business skills needed in and out of the studio’. As I suggest in later chapters, such output-based agendas can be linked to ACE funding and wider dialogic creative and cultural industry prerogatives.

I argue that HHDT today is under the influence of creative and cultural industry conditions, thereby becoming a commodity that is, in its ascendancy, part of the UK creative economy (McRobbie, 2016). This perspective is informed by debates on the industrialisation of UK arts stemming from New Labour’s (1997–2010) cultural policies, when Jen Harvie suggested that cultural commodification risks ‘limit[ing] the right to artistic expression to those who can make it economically productive’ (2005: 23). I believe this limiting of artistic expression has an impact on the movement(s) of hip hop dancers in UK dance theatre, as there is an expectation and delineation of how they should move, stylistically and aesthetically on stage, as bodies in the studio and as workers and bodies in the economic and capital system of the UK dance industry. The hegemonic supervision of artists working in HHDT ensures that long-established notions of what hip hop dance is, adhering to archetypes of high energy synchronised movements and acrobatics, are perpetuated via interconnected elements including mentorships, funding strategies and state-led commodification of arts and culture. These processes have an impact on the agency[10] and mobility[11] of artists working in the HHDT mould and are connected to the wider processes of gentrification[12] and ‘culturfication’[13] (a neologism for the manufacture of culture) that presently permeate London’s sociocultural, political and artistic landscape.

Sadler’s Wells is an institution that, while purporting to embrace progressive politics, is ‘halted by a contrary spirit of conservatism (saturated with strategic nostalgia)’ (Gotman, 2015: 67). I argue that this nostalgic identity extends through the corporeal and artistic supervision of HHDT via the Breakin’ Convention project, where artists’ training programmes reiterate successful tropes associated with the institution’s historic foundations. These motifs can presently be identified in the two dominant iterations of the HHDT form, both of which maintain the fourth wall end-on staging paradigm, which has long defined the institutions of British dance and theatre.[14] The first of these is exemplified by productions such as ZooNation’s (2016/17) Into the Hoods: Remixed and Boy Blue Entertainment’s The Five and the Prophecy of Prana (2015). Both employ staging aesthetics ‘structured around a series of set pieces or visual punch lines, flourishes of physical bravado that require [as in pantomime] a vocal response’ (Logan, 2014). This approach follows long-established models of white Western theatre and dance performance, and it is possible to draw comparisons with aspects of 19th-century melodramas, pantomimes, spectacle plays and story ballets. Similarly, and demonstratively, it uses narratives that illustrate a simplified moral universe via stock characters, presented in a series of short declamatory scenes (Brooks, 1996).

The emphasis in this type of work is placed on short routines that focus on displays of physical virtuosity, constructed through montages that piece together fragmented images, synchronised routines and musical cut-ups (edits that use short sections from a selection of songs to punctuate shifts in routines). I argue that this style of performance employs a flattened and linear presentation of hip hop dance on stage, and there is much to be found in common with the production values of West End musical theatre. This is clearly illustrated in the work of major UK HHDT companies ZooNation and Boy Blue, which draw heavily on the formulaic West End equation of ‘catchy music in a popular style […] spoken dialogue, dance sequences, stage spectacles and magnificent costumes […] all held together by the plot’ (BBC, 2014).

The second dominant iteration of HHDT, evident in the work of London-based companies such as Just Us Dance Theatre and Far From The Norm, navigates a different route, employing movement and choreographic strategies that might be aligned more closely to common staging aesthetics and movement vocabularies witnessed within postmodern, contemporary dance works. Here, via a system of artistic supervision, the HHDT choreographers and dancers are drawn towards assimilating the styles of the celebrated contemporary dance choreographers whom they encounter through mentorships. Examples include the ‘all too familiar Hofesh Shechter trope of simian loping’ (Norman, 2015) incorporated into Lee Griffiths’ and Botis Seva’s work, and the Jonathan Burrows-esque hands in Kwame Asafo-Adjei’s work following their mentoring by these two key artists.

Funding streams for emerging hip hop dance artists in the UK are increasingly tied to allocated mentorships with high-profile postmodern contemporary dance practitioners. For instance, Sadler’s Wells consistently uses its own associate artists such as Jasmin Vardimon, Hofesh Shechter and Jonathan Burrows (director of the Sadler’s Wells Summer University)[15] to deliver the intensive hip hop artists training workshop Back to the Lab,and as mentors linked to hip hop dance artists via other funding initiatives. With artistic funding becoming increasingly hard to secure in the UK, it is difficult for emerging hip hop dance artists to develop work without acquiescing to a system that guarantees funding and support through institutional collaborations. The creative tensions invoked by such an environment is a point which I will expand in chapter 2.

These collective circumstances and observations create a binary system, suggesting that the voice of hip hop dance artists is currently compromised by the UK creative industry’s commodification of HHDT, thriving as it does on the replication of familiar white Western artistic traditions (hooks, 2006). This emphasis on industry, dance-art product and commodification rather than artistic potential creates a restrictive positionality that is exacerbated by the institutional frameworks that drive HHDT, imposing paradigms of staging and narrative to inform a formulaic, homogenised product.

I believe that HHDT has inherited traditional production values under the supervision of Sadler’s Wells Theatre, which, dating back to the 18th century, is London’s second oldest theatre. Its historical space echoes with the weight and gravitas of classical dance, theatre and contemporary dance performance. Experimental dramaturg André Lepecki (2015) suggests that we exercise caution towards these types of spaces, where empty stages are already filled with clichés inherited through the tried and tested tropes of dance, art and theatre. Interdisciplinary scholar Kélina Gotman argues that Sadler’s Wells is a late capitalist institution focused on financial returns, a successful corporate brand that employs strategic marketing to be able to claim ‘all of dance as its inheritance and heir’ (Gotman, 2015: 69). Through laying a simultaneous claim to tradition and innovation, Sadler’s Wells performs a ‘dialectics at a standstill’ (Gotman, 2015: 66), an illusion of innovation tethered to incumbent physical histories, marking it as an institution that produces stasis by ‘showcasing something dance like, here, but back then’ (Gotman, 2015: 69). Nurtured and defined by Sadler’s Wells, HHDT is struggling to find its voice, confined by an institutional framework saturated with established ways of moving, ‘techniques and gestures that seem to be readymade in order to serve a certain preconception of what a dance work […] should properly be’ (Lepecki, 2015: 63).

The transition of hip hop dance from a vernacular to a theatrical setting in the UK has been primarily orchestrated via the single dominant institution of Sadler’s Wells, which, as Spalding predicted in 2005, is now recognised as the cultural centre for UK contemporary dance. The tropes and attitudes of this institution have permeated and coerced the development of hip hop dance artists making theatre. I suggest this is closely tied to considerations of HHDT as a corporate brand that pertains to ideas of financial and cultural capital (Bourdieu, 2010), which is discussed detail in chapter 2.


A practice-as-research strategy implies that I bring a certain knowledge and depth of practice to this research investigation, and therefore it is useful to acknowledge the area(s) of embodied knowledge that I carry into this research and space. This provides a vital perspective by offering an insight into the route that guided me to the starting point of my research inquiry, and enables the reader to better understand how this professional, practitioner knowledge and experience hinders, guides, coerces, deceives and informs my research journey. Informed by Jane Desmond’s suggestion that we ‘can further our understandings of how social identities are signalled, formed, and negotiated through bodily movement’ (1997: 29), I now propose to map my movement in the fields of dance, movement-based theatre and intercultural theatre, albeit briefly, so that the reader might better understand my position in relation to the research field.

I am a white male of working class origin, born in 1961, with genealogy rooted in Franco-Irish ancestry. For the past four decades I have been involved in popular (vernacular) dance forms via the UK northern soul scene and, since 1988, with capoeira.[16] Interestingly, hip hop dance practitioners have recently noted and acknowledged some similarities in form between breaking and northern soul dancing, though they emerged simultaneously on different continents and with no apparent connection. For example, Poe One, a leading b-boy and hip hop dance historian, often shows footage from the 1977 northern soul documentary This England in his workshops, to draw attention to these resemblances. As with northern soul dancing, the Afro-Brazilian dance and martial art form capoeira has been considered to have similar movement vocabulary as breaking, with elements such as the l-kick being evidenced in the capoeira roda (circle) long before it surfaced in the breaking cypher (circle). Furthermore, capoeira, as with breaking, is a form that is intimately bound by complex questions of sociocultural and political agency.

Aged 15 I became an indentured apprentice engineer, and on completing my ‘time’ I looked for a long-term escape via corporeal expression. I found this route through movement-based theatre. I trained and performed with implicitly political mentors at Bretton Hall College, Wakefield, and with Rena Mirecka (Grotowski Company), The Laboratory Theatre of Manipur, Volcano Theatre Company, Pan (intercultural) Projects and many others. During this time I have been a performer, director and choreographer, engaging with Western as well as non-Western corporeal practices. My training, performance and research has drawn me to work with elements of contemporary dance, somatic practice, corporeal mime, Butoh, Thang-Ta and Kabuki, and extensively with Capoeira Regional and Capoeira Angola. I have worked with many artists and students through workshop scenarios.

My exploration of theatre with hip hop dance artists in the UK began in 1997, and my work with Cambridge-based Dance Offensive has appeared on Breakin’ Convention’s main stage (Beneath Me Lies, 2011, and Pressure Drop Part II, 2010). Additionally, I have worked as an assistant to Breakin’ Convention’s Artistic Director Jonzi D, and as a mentor on Breakin’ Convention’s artist development programme Open Art Surgery (2013–2015). During this extended period of working with artists who were using elements of hip hop to explore theatre, I was drawn towards the idea that there was an innate latent potentiality to produce a new politicised dance theatre vocabulary that was yet to find its voice among this group. It was this initial premise that led towards my doctoral practice research and exploring the studio and performance space of HHDT, a space that I felt at the time, albeit in an embodied rather than conceptualised way, was coercive and homogenising in the context of the institutional framework that governed the form.

This brief history of my movement(s) demonstrates my involvement in a wide range of practice, and my ongoing engagement with the nexus between dance, theatre and movement, and the sociocultural and political negotiations that inhabit it. I now have an embodied understanding of how dance can provide a means of escapism and offer a sociopolitical voice to those who find it difficult to achieve it in other spheres. I now understand how the practices encompassed in my dance and movement training have a shared ethos of collectivity and communitas, which have informed my sense of alliance and empathy with the experiences of hip hop dancers who collectively seek similar forms of communal exchange and communication through dance exchanges and training scenarios.

There is currently very little academic research into the emergence and potential of hip hop dance artists making theatre in the UK and extant writing on the subject is scarce. Any mainstream media reviews of HHDT are almost unanimously eulogistic and superficial in tone, lacking what critic Lyn Gardner (2011) describes as ‘restraint, consideration, contextualisation and enough space to write meaningfully and thoughtfully about a show’.[17] By problematising these conditions, my research widens the critical discourse surrounding the form. This close examination of the conditions of production of HHDT seems even more urgent as hip hop gains currency not only in the creative industries sector but also as an area of study within the academy, engaging in an ever-deepening transaction with the UK institutional framework.

Hip hop is undoubtedly a growing field of academic study in the UK,[18] yet available literature is very US-centric, consisting of in-depth studies from socio-historical and ethno-musical perspectives (Chang, 2005; Forman and Neal et al, 2012). Dance-specific literature is also dominated by these same concerns (Hazzard-Donald, 2004; Huntington, 2007; Johnson, 2009). The UK popular dance scholar Laura Robinson rightly argues that ‘U.K. hip hop dance culture’ is one of the under-researched areas of academic study (2015). Furthermore, I posit that engaged research into the UK centric phenomenon of HHDT is currently under-represented in the academic field, and more importantly for the purposes of my research inquiry, so too are hip hop dance artists in the space of UK dance theatre.

My practice research inquiry deals with a particular enclave of dance artists who come from different ethnic backgrounds, including white Caucasian, and their relationship to the institutional frameworks in which they move. The meta theme of this chapter derives from and focusses upon socio-economic precarity arising from gentrification processes as a unifying outcome and effect. This meta-theme implicitly contains multiple precarities including race and gender, yet, in the UK environment at least, socio-economic precarity is presently, and very rapidly, superseding and dominating the discourse. That is not to say that it is negating other expressions of precarity. However, this thesis focusses upon and unpicks the socio-economic environment in which HHDT moves and from which it emanated.

My work is aligned with the ‘new wave’ of UK artists who use hip hop dance as a creative element when creating theatre, a group that includes Botis Seva, Lee Griffiths and Kwame Asafo-Adjei. These choreographers are, in my opinion, seeking greater autonomy from the HHDT machine, as demonstrated through their voices in this thesis. My work is therefore aligned with some of the ideas of a new generation of UK HHDT artists. It responds to an incipient movement within the UK, whose advocates have not yet quite found, or articulated, a methodology. My research responds to an embryonic feeling that something needs to change and presents a new methodological approach. This work is not at a tangent, but rather builds on something that is starting to emerge in HHDT in the UK. So, while being innovative the research also responds at a grass roots level to what is already happening in UK HHDT.

Key terminology

Throughout this thesis certain terms are employed to help describe some of the key ideas and concepts applied within and emerging from the research enquiry. This guide explains them, outlines how they are employed in this research, indicates where they are used in fields outside dance and performance studies, and notes where new terminology has arisen from the practice-as research study itself.


The search for my identity within my creative process working with hip hop dancers led me to explore a hybrid role that I posit is best captured by the term ‘choreodramaturg’, an original term I have developed to delineate this composite role. Notably, I do not choreograph in the traditional sense of HHDT, where routines and steps are passed on by the choreographer to be drilled and synchronised by dancers. I do not function as a dramaturg in the traditional sense of forming a dialogical relationship with a choreographer to comment on the evolving work and the dance(ers). Rather, I draw on an embodied understanding of movement that aligns itself most closely with dramaturgical thinking when creating choreography. This role manifests itself in a processual approach to creating choreography, where task-based methods are introduced to test, disrupt and develop new ways of moving with the dancers (described in chapters 3 and 4). This involves a process of layering that calls on an interaction and disruption between various elements such as text, movement, subject material and scenography. This interaction and disruption questions the choreographic and visual identity of HHDT.

While acknowledging Joana Lopes’s original coining of the word choreodramaturgy[19] in 1995, I have chosen simply to fuse the words choreographer and dramaturg to describe a hybrid role as it emerged in my research practice. Calling on my embodied knowledge as a movement-based ensemble theatre practitioner I collaborated with the dancers in this research project to create new choreographic outcomes. Therefore, I apply the noun choreodramaturg to signify my role as the navigator of the labyrinthine pathways of the collaborative choreographic process. By removing the construction of the specialist choreographer or choreographer as ‘expert’ (Butterworth, 2009), I am challenging traditional conceptions of the dramaturg as a secondary figure: one who does not make direct decisions or statements, but instead supports the primary figure of the choreographer in their work (Trencsényi, 2015). In the context of my research, however, the dramaturg becomes the primary figure, working directly with the dancers in a devised process, creating movement by exploring political themes and employing dramaturgical task-based methods. This is, I suggest, a move away from choreography as it has been applied until now in HHDT, moving towards an expansion of dance scholar Joanne Butterworth’s (2009) Didactic-Democratic Spectrum Model of choreographic roles, foregrounding dramaturgical processes while questioning the explicit politics of the institutional space (Appendix 1.1).

I did consider that the term choreopoliticaldramaturg might better hint at the complexity and explicit political discourse that the role purports, but settled on the shorter choreodramaturg for reasons of conciseness. The choreodramaturg proposes a useful package – a split personality – that relates the micro level of movement to the macro level of the world: a politicised dramaturg who choreographs, bringing the outside world into the space while questioning how the institution moves and defines movement. While Butterworth’s spectrum captures the contemporary dance model it required further expansion in this research context in order to define the choreodramaturg in HHDT. Practically, there is a need for a devised approach to creating work (Oddey, 1996) and to explore a particular method of working in the studio that permeates the final performance (see chapters 3 and 4 for an expanded discussion).


In chapter 2 I introduce the term ‘(im)mobility’ (Pellegrino, 2011: 157) to describe the notion of a dialogic interaction between corporeal and conceptual freedom and constraint. I employ the term to capture a negotiation between mobility and immobility that emerged from my practice research following the first large-scale performance work (BLOCK) in 2016. During the initial stages of my practice I employed notions of mobility and immobility in a somewhat binary and divided fashion to denote two separate states. However, through my practice-based research, I came to realise that the two states are intricately linked and inform each other; they are causal and reciprocal, interacting and negotiating with each other. Therefore, the term ‘(im)mobility’ captures this continuous dialogue and contains both the conceptual and corporeal discourse that my research explores.

Metaspace and Metaspatial Knowledge

Often referred to as the ‘fifth element’ of hip hop, knowledge is not a new ideal or novel concept in hip hop culture. Yet in the British context at least, and after having interviewed and worked with UK artists, I argue that the broadly held conceptualisation of ‘hip hop knowledge’ centres on the micro -sociocultural and historical and temporal space of hip hop, rather than the meta -sociocultural, historical, temporal and political space that frames it. The micro lens recognises that possessing hip hop specific knowledge endows dancer artists with subcultural capital (Thornton, 1996: 163), which focuses specifically on hip hop legacy such as the role of founding figures and practitioners, the evolution of movements and the development of terminology. This micro lens is bound to a canon that is subject to hip hop’s hegemony, particularly notions of the four founding elements of b-boying (breaking), MCing (rapping), Graffiti and DJing.

I refer to the wider definition of knowledge in HHDT as ‘metaspatial knowledge’, a term that emerged from my research to denote critical thinking about the wider space (metaspace) in which HHDT circulates, a multidimensional space filled with its own histories, imbued with cultural imperatives, political agendas and the ghosts of movements past. This is, essentially, knowledge of the wider sociocultural, historical, economic and political space in which HHDT artists move, a space where multiple components such as funding, artistic supervision, gentrification and culturfication come together to impose a form of institutionally driven ‘choreopolicing’ (Lepecki, 2013). The term ‘choreopolicing’ was developed by experimental dramaturg and scholar André Lepecki, and in the context of my research denotes complex and interrelated structures of supervision, the purpose of which is to enforce ‘a prechoreographed pattern of circulation, corporeality, and belonging’ (2013: 20).

Using the concept of choreopolicing, it is possible to bind together ideas of movement, freedom and the political (Lepecki, 2013: 15, emphasis in the original), to argue that the institutional supervision of HHDT equates to the idea of artistic surveillance, aimed at regulating movement. By drawing on this and other conceptual debates, principally Foucault’s (1997) ideas on ‘domination’ and Gotman’s (2015) use of the Benjaminian concept of a ‘dialectics at a standstill’, I develop the argument that metaspatial knowledge (discussed in detail in chapter 2) leads to a clearer understanding of how the metaspace shapes HHDT performance. This argument is informed by considering how imposed and inherited preconceptions of dance conventions, forms and presentational and performative formats circulate in the arena of HHDT through the physical and political movement(s) of the dancers.

Multiple Entry Point Layering and Processual Accretion

‘Multiple entry point layering and processual accretion’ refers to a studio practice that was developed during the first large-scale research project entitled BLOCK (discussed in chapter 3). Entry points are defined in this research as studio tasks that disrupt habitual ways of making movement. The job of an entry point is to puncture, enter or disturb the dancers’ fixed notions of how they should move, while challenging my fixed notions of what I do as a choreodramaturg. Multiple entry point layering emerged as an intrinsic practical method of destabilising dancers’ movements when exploring the unsteady state condition. Multiple components such as text, scenography, movement scores and music were introduced gradually to the dancer(s) via specific tasks and subsequently switched about and disrupted once the dancer had become competent or safe within the task(s). Hence, multiple entry point layering was employed as a strategy to destabilise the dancer’s movements as the components interacted simultaneously, jostling for position and displacing each other.

In the final research phase, as the complexity of the praxis developed, I used the term ‘processual accretion’ to capture some of its intricacy and to acknowledge that the practice had moved beyond multiple entry point layering to a process that gradually accrued influences, ideas and stimuli from inside and outside the studio. After finding that the original term ‘multiple entry point layering’ was lacking and not sufficiently describing what I was doing, I decided to use ‘processual accretion’, as discussed in detail in chapter 4.

The Unsteady State Condition

Through the working processes of multiple entry point layering and processual accretion the choreodramaturg is positioned as a creator–facilitator, an agent of turbulence who instigates the ‘unsteady state condition’ out of which the dance emerges. The term ‘unsteady state condition’ is commonly used in the field of thermodynamics to describe the scientific principle of thermodynamic heat transfer in areas such as chemical and thermal engineering, where it is posited that the desirable ‘steady state condition’ cannot exist without the initial unsteady state condition when elements are in flux (White, Gilet and Alexander, 2002). Used as a metaphor, we might then view the steady state condition to signify a choreopoliced product, one that in HHDT is represented by the two dominant iterations of the form that I have previously discussed, wherein choreographic immobility is imposed through processes of supervision and mimesis. My research explores the possibility of a choreodramaturg constructing an unsteady state condition, and positioning dancers as the creators of the movement vocabulary that emerges from such conditions. This processual approach is unsteady in that it is largely improvised and not concerned with choreographic output in the traditional sense of the hip hop dance routines or physically demonstrative narratives that are associated with HHDT. The material emerging from the unsteady state condition is subsequently formed into a finalised performance work through negotiation with the choreodramaturg, who seeks and employs strategies to maintain the unsteady state condition in performance.

My inquiry examines the potentiality of the unsteady state condition from a studio-based perspective, and considers the impact of this approach more broadly in the field, as HHDT artists negotiate between the regulating structures and systems of the institutional setting. By deliberately pursuing and exploring methods of destabilisation in the studio, my praxis informs a process and product that are rendered unsteady through choice, as a means of both artistic revolt and artistic creation. In this context, as opposed to a positive position of stability and security inferred by the term, I am asserting that steady state conditions are a negative force. I argue that such conditions compromise the potentiality of the performers and the form through strategies that are attached to notions of power and domination (Foucault, 1997), and that such an environment blockades potential technical and artistic transitions within the space. The steady state condition is closely linked to institutional and corporate strategies of marketisation and commodification, and I suggest that the processes and performance of HHDT are driven by, and bound within, these cultural and creative ‘industry’ structures.


This research project employed studio-based research to explore how some of the complex ideas discussed above might be challenged through practical interventions. To achieve this I deliberately sought out a rigorous strategy to displace and hinder my performance-making habits and rituals, as well as those of the dancers, captured through the notion of ‘turbulence’. Challenging established paradigms of HHDT requires processual disruption and the concept of turbulence enabled me to problematise accepted modes of working in HHDT to facilitate change. Additionally, it challenges practitioners’ modus operandi. Theatre practitioner and researcher Eugenio Barba argues that contrary to the image of disorder that it invokes, turbulence is in fact ‘order in motion’ (2000: 61). In the studio, this ‘strategy of disorder’ challenges and denies mimesis and clichéd illustration; moreover, it confronts individual and collective tropes that risk becoming nostalgic and burdensome in the research context. Barba came to describe a similar notion, through the term ‘Disorder’. Using an upper case rather than lower case ‘D’, to avoid confusion with the disorder of undisciplined chaos, Barba writes that Disorder is ‘the logic and rigour which provoke, the experience of bewilderment in me and the spectator’ (2010: 17). Drawing from this idea of Disorder as a logical and rigorously invoked process, my practice explores ‘reliable frameworks of turbulence’ in the studio. This involved developing multiple tasks that were gradually built up to a point where the dancer could attempt to execute them simultaneously. For example, simultaneously delivering text, interacting with scenography and maintaining choreographed phrases while conveying subject material, instigated a corporeal struggle for the dancer as each element began to displace the other. My research inquiry employed strategies of turbulence to unpack habitual methods of working and sought to understand the dynamics, and communicate the impact of such conditions in relation to their potential influence on the physical outcomes of the work.

In the context of the studio I use the notion of turbulence as the struggle and messy exchange between materials and bodies, between the co-existing elements of subject material, movement, text, scenography, myself and the dancers. For example, this might involve the dancer struggling to maintain balance and choreographic intention atop a mattress (a destabilised scenographic setting), while simultaneously trying to deliver text and convey subject material (a process explored in detail in chapter 3).

In performance, a secondary iteration of turbulence arises between the work and its reception by the audience and these two stages of turbulence share a causal relationship: between studio and performance. This secondary iteration was encountered when the multiplicity of studio formulated elements collided with the presence of a live audience. As I describe in chapter 3, in this scenario, scenography, dancers, text, subject material and spectators hindered and displaced each other, invoking new choreographic outcomes that were marked by kinesthetic empathy, as discussed in chapter 3.[20]


Within the paradigms of practice-based research, my methodology fits most aptly in the category of practice-as-research, in that the practice forms the nexus of a critical inquiry that explores my practitioner ‘know how’ through an iterative cycle of doing and critical reflection (Nelson, 2013). However, I find the term ‘practice research’, as conceived by scholar and practitioner Franziska Schroeder (2015), more precise in its acknowledgement that research emerges out of practice, and that practice leads and informs research. In my project, practice is the ‘key method of inquiry’ (Nelson, 2013: 8), and the research that emerges from it calls for a multidimensional approach, which reflects on the ‘doing’ by developing a theoretical framework that is stable and rigorous, yet reflexive and expansive. Working towards clarity and the recognition that practice is equitable to research, Schroeder calls for practitioners to abstain from using the ‘as’ in practice-as-research, arguing that it reflects an apologetic notion of practice, framing practice ‘as if’ it might somehow equate to research, therefore elevating research over practice (2015: 3).

My methodological approach begins in the studio in collaboration with dancers. We explore a devising process that employs task-based methods to create material. Within these exercises I adjust through a process of embodied reflection, which engages with the research task in relation to the dancers’ responses and their personal orientation towards the task and to the emergent moments of movement. It is a process of being in the moment and working reflexively, drawing on tacit impulses and intuitions and allowing space to navigate possible new routes within the unfolding action, challenging and testing it in the process.

At this generative stage of movement exploration, I am drawing on ‘knowledge that arises through handling materials in practice’ (Schroeder,2015: 346). From this stage of ‘doing’, provocations, problems, confusion and moments of insight arise in implicit and explicit manners. For example, through restricting the movement vocabulary of one of the dancers in the BLOCK project, I noted a change in the intensity and density of his performance. To develop this I edited down his original improvisation to just a few movements. This choreographic material involved jabbing, punching, tensing and popping actions, which I considered to be linked to the subject of gentrification: destabilisation, loss of security, social loss, imbalance, relocation and displacement. This editorial pathway supported the development of movement that was contained and concentrated, veering between mobility and immobility, displacing the dancer’s urge to make more movements, which is an opposite approach to the norm in HHDT. Additionally, I stood in close proximity to the dancer, and in doing so contributed to the enclosed intensity of the edited pathway. Through this process the dancer’s movement became charged, and I could feel the movement material blend with the subject material as it inhabited a visceral element in the space. After the project was completed I read the dancer’s studio journal for the day in question, and found that he had been highly frustrated at ‘not being allowed to dance more’. I reflected that turbulence is a phenomenon invoked through a notion of frustrated labour, which when combined with the subject material that the dancer was inhabiting found a powerful outlet via the limited movement vocabulary of the ‘pop’ and the ‘jab’.[21] Furthermore, the visceral sensation that I felt while being near the dancer unveiled ideas of kinesthetic empathy. This practical experience led me to reflect that a spectator can exchange energy in an intimate way with a dancer, a reciprocal kinesthetic and empathetic dialogue that is instigated through close proximity between the two (Foster, 2011: 129).

This example demonstrates how practical inquiry facilitates critical reflection, enabling me to unpack what might be described as the ‘messy intuitiveness’ of my studio practice. This process is informed by an evolving theoretical framework that draws on cultural theory (Foucault, 1991, 1997, 2002; Lepecki, 2013; Soja, 1996), dramaturgy (Barba and Barba, 2000, 2010; Profeta, 2015; Trencsényi, 2015), hip hop dance theory (Chang, 2006; Davis, 2006; Huntington, 2007; Neil and Forman, 2004; Uno, 2004), contemporary dance theory (Butterworth, 2009; Foster, 2011; Osterweis, 2014), performance politics (Dodds, 2011; Harvie, 2005; Martin, 1998) and artists’ journals (including my own). In this research I also draw on interviews I conducted with a range of UK HHDT practitioners, as a key means of bringing their voices into the research project.

From this iterative cycle of doing and thinking new questions reveal themselves, generating revisions and reformations of the original problem that emerged from the studio practice. These provocations led me to the studio once again to seek further insights and possible resolutions: to practise my way within them, and out of them. Through this methodology the conceptual framework of the research becomes stronger and more malleable as the practice unearths new knowledge that informs understandings and conceptualisations of the theoretical material. This new knowledge allowed me to develop new and newly informed routes of inquiry to pursue and reflect on further. The perpetual questioning of my process through this iterative cycle, while searching for a clear method of ‘articulating the doing and thinking that led to specific outcome[s]’ (Schroeder, 2015: 351), defines my research as ‘practice-as-research’, or taking Schroeder’s preferable and resolute stance, ‘practice research’.

Outline of Thesis

Chapter 1 Introduction

Chapter 1 introduces the research aims and questions followed by a detailed discussion of the emergence of hip hop dance theatre in the UK. The problematisation of current hip hop dance theatre practices is introduced and the practice research rationale is presented, wherein I position myself as a practitioner within the practice research framework. The definition of key terminology that arises throughout the thesis is articulated followed by a discussion of the methodological approach that the research undertakes.

Chapter 2 Moving Politically: Metaspatial Knowledge and the Institutional Framework

Chapter 2 introduces the concept of the ‘metaspace’ as a theoretical framework to examine the wider sociocultural, historical, economic and political space in which HHDT is produced. The chapter interrogates, and explicitly politicises, complex relationships and negotiations that impact on the choreographic outputs of HHDT artists working within a metaspace defined by a culture of supervision. In doing so, the writing develops a notion of spatiality that is closely linked to gentrification and cultural industry outputs in the UK. This lens is applied and developed in the following two chapters through a detailed discussion of studio responses that challenge the dominant supervisory conditions chapter 2 describes

Chapter 3 The Unsteady State Condition

Chapter 3 discusses BLOCK, the initial, large-scale practice research project. The role of the choreodramaturg in the evolving praxis is examined and notions of choreographic fixity in HHDT are challenged by exploring turbulence as a processual tool. Emerging from these practical explorations, a dialogic relationship between the processual components, cypher scenography, multiple entry-point layering of corporeal tasks, perspective, proximity, agency, (im)mobility and kinesthetic empathy is presented. The idea of the unsteady state condition, constituted through the relationship between these processual components, emerges as an overall theme in the chapter and in doing so a new notion of virtuosity is examined.

Chapter 4 Process(ing) and Protest(ing) in the Metaspace of HHDT

Chapter 4 presents the final practice research phase that emerged from reflections on the BLOCK project, comprising of two micro-projects and a final exposition. Through the articulation of an iterative cycle of praxis, the evolution of the unsteady state condition is presented in relation to ideas of precarity. The role of the choreodramaturg as architect of the unsteady state condition is developed through a discussion of processual accretion, a complex choreographic tool that houses metaspatial thinking and doing. The culmination of the practice research is presented through a discussion of the final exposition of practice, wherein ideas of processing and protesting the metaspace of hip hop dance theatre are shared and articulated.


The concluding chapter summarises the key points, returns to the research questions and points towards future research avenues. Highlighting the choreodramaturg’s role in the development of metaspatial knowledge and the unsteady state condition as processual tools, it proposes possible future impacts, extending beyond hip hop dance theatre to related fields such as human geography, cultural theory and social activism.



[1] Agency in the context of the choreodramaturg might be defined and informed by a series of actions and interventions that produce a particular effect, brought about by a conscious engagement with the political narrative of the theatre as an institutionally prescribed domain in order to create a counter-narrative.

[2] The name Breakin’ Convention is trademarked and the intellectual property rights are registered to Sadler’s Wells Trust Limited, Categories 25 and 41.

[3] ‘Hip-hop theatre’, coined from inside the culture by Brooklyn-based poet Eisa Davis in The Source magazine in March 2000, ‘has come to describe the work of a generation of artists who find themselves defined in a new category of both prospective opportunity and limitation’ (Uno, 2004).

[4] Hip hop battle cyphers are improvised circles made up of spectators and participants. Traditionally battles took place between breakers or rappers (spoken word) to establish superiority among individuals or groups (crews).

[5] To view the videos Buffalo Gals (1984) and Wild Style (1983) please follow the links in the e-submission.

[6] Wild Style (1983) is regarded as the first hip hop feature film, combining graffiti, music and breaking to inform a new emergent ‘wild style’. Breaking or b-boying is the name given to the solo dance regarded as central to hip hop culture, involving acrobatics, upright dance steps such as top rock, and fast and intricate floor work such as six-step.

[7] ‘Being in the music is a moment where one is in a meditative state. Where there is a oneness and a completeness there is no division between what is happening sonically and physically. The mind body and soul are free. Where time stops and one is linked to the universe of possibilities. Where everything you know, physically, spiritually and intellectually, is available in a nanosecond’ (Reid, interview with the author, 6 March 2017).

[8] ‘If it was a hip hop theatre festival, then I’d balance out the influences in the theatre space’ (Jonzi D, interview with the author, 14 December 2014).

[9] Christina has been involved in HHDT since her early work with Lee Griffiths’ The Company (2014). She has created and performed her work rooted in HHDT and performed with London-based company Far From the Norm.

[10] Human agency is an often-used term in academic writing and linguistic and socio-cultural anthropologist Laura Ahearn notes that its meaning varies greatly depending on the context of use (2000: 12). In my research I find Ahearn’s definition of agency as ‘the socio-culturally mediated capacity to act’ (2001: 28) a useful anchor point.

[11] I use mobility to refer to movement in the physical sense of dancing, and to refer to artists’ contextual relationship with the UK’s sociocultural and political environment in which they move.

[12] ‘Gentrification is a form of socio-spatial urban development wherein working class or lower-income residential neighbourhoods are transformed into middle-class residential or commercial neighbourhoods, resulting in the displacement and geographical reshuffling of existing residents’ (Deobhakta, 2014: 1).

[13] Culturfication is a neologism used on some online discussions to mean becoming cultured. However, I use culturfication to mean a corporate strategy, linked to globalisation that produces and manufactures culture as a financial commodity. This product is closely linked to notions of cultural and financial capital aimed at tourism and international markets. It is a homogenous product designed to control and replace the diverse (vernacular) cultural sites that it consumes. Used in this way, culturfication echoes aspects of Peter K. Fallon’s (1991) notion of the ‘Disneyfication of society’ (Fallon in Kehoe, 1991: 373).

[14] The fourth wall is a theatre term referring to ‘the imaginary line, or wall, between the actors on the stage and the audience’ (Del Seamonds, 1996).

[15] ‘Summer University offers 15 dance professionals the chance to take part in a four-year project meeting for two weeks each year to share work, hear talks, explore methodologies and philosophies of performance making and extend their own practice through self-study and focussed interventions’ (Cross, 2018)

To date the programme demonstrates an endogamous approach to delivery. Past guest speakers include celebrated post-modern contemporary choreographer Liz Lerman, celebrated post-modern contemporary dance film-maker David Hinton, Tate Modern performance art curator Catherine Wood (who has worked extensively with celebrated post-modern contemporary dancers such as Wendy Houston and Jerome Bel and founder of the celebrated post-modern UK contemporary dance company the Featherstonehaughs, Frank Bock.

[16] ‘Capoeira is a movement practice from Brazil that evades classification. It is movement to music, but it is not considered a dance form; it is an interaction between two people in front of an audience combining both rehearsed and improvised material, but it is not theatre; it is arguably a martial art, but there is little contact between the players. The players of capoeira or capoeiristas take turns in the roles of movers, musicians and observers. Capoeiristas call it a game, or jogo de capoeira, but in this game, there are no winners or losers, just players’ (Höfling, 2006: 83). In 2001, I was awarded the level of professor by Mestre Sombra the head of Associação de Capoeira Senzala, Santos, Brazil.

[17] The following two examples illustrate this. First, Hoggard, writing for the Evening Standard, invokes the white Western art continuum via legitimised venues while summarising the event via a ‘low art’ comparison: ‘It was fascinating to see how hip-hop has embraced elements of ‘high art’, while several spoken word pieces could easily have been staged at the Bush or Young Vic. […] At heart Breakin’ Convention is a variety show. For the finale, Britain’s Got Talent finalists Flawless stormed the stage with their firecracker pyrotechnics’ (Hoggard, 2016).

Second, Rattrey wrote a review for the website I Am Hip Hop, London, which lacks the critical awareness that Breakin’ Convention is not autonomous and is a Sadler’s Wells Project. The review also critiques elitism, while proposing HHDT should follow the same path as ballet: ‘Breakin’ Convention broke down the usually stuffy and elitist doors of Sadler’s Wells Theatre for its 13th year. […] Breakin’ Convention is at the vanguard of hip hop culture, a cultural merging point between theatre and grass roots urban culture. I really hope hip hop dance theatre becomes a thing like going to the ballet’ (Rattrey, 2016).

[18] The University of Cambridge, regarded by many as a world-class bastion of academic learning, now ‘has a course in hip hop’ (Butterworth, 2016) and held the International Hip Hop Studies Conference in June 2016.

[19] Artist and educator Joana Lopes originally coined the term ‘choreodramaturgia’ (which translates into English as ‘choreodramaturgy’) in 1995, using it to describe a specific field of thought within a Brazilian ethnographic context, in which movements in space are signified through their cultural identifications.

[20] ‘Kinesthesia’ refers to ‘sensations of movement and position’, while ‘empathy’ can be seen as ‘projecting oneself into the object of contemplation’ (Reynolds and Reason, 2012: 8–19). The terms kinaesthesia and empathy were both coined in the 1880s, emerging from the fields of neuroscience and art respectively (Foster, 2011: 6–11) In her in-depth study of kinesthetic empathy, Susan Leigh Foster raises concerns about the emergence of the two concepts running in parallel with British responses to, and evaluations of, colonialism. Foster argues that a particular application of the concepts facilitated a means of justifying the differing of others and ‘like the term choreography, they were mobilised, in part, to rationalise operations of exclusion and othering’ (2011: 11). While I acknowledge this point, it is beyond the scope of my practice research project to elaborate further.

[21] The ‘pop’ uses a quick contraction and relaxation of various muscles to create a jerking effect in the body. It can be concentrated to specific body parts, such as arms, legs and chest. Pops can vary in dynamic and intensity and stronger pops involve the lower and upper body working simultaneously. In my studio work, the ‘jab’ often extends from the initial contraction of the pop and culminates in an extension of the arm through to the hand in a dynamic jabbing movement. The jab may also work independently of the pop, calling on tension in the arm muscles to achieve the jabbing motion.