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

Chapter 4

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


This chapter describes my final practice research phase. I also consider an unfolding and unavoidable debate surrounding my participation in the economic, artistic and political circumstances that my wider research highlights as problematic in the field of HHDT. Through doing so, the discussion questions my place as an artist working closely with dancers in the metaspace of HHDT and the various conditions and constraints that inform my work and position as an (un)funded, (un)paid artist employing other artists in this work. The micro projects enabled me to unpick the idea that choreographic approaches in HHDT have become reified through their encounters with dominant processual models that are linked to cultural industries’ outputs. By processing the complexity of these conditions through my praxis, I explored a radically different approach. The final phase of practice, therefore, incorporating two micro projects and a final exposition, wrestled with this conundrum by exploring a mode of working that encompassed notions of ‘process(ing) and protest(ing)’ in the studio.

Drawing from the key concepts arising from the BLOCK project, I wanted to consider how the unsteady state condition might be elaborated through further research into the process of entry point layering and how the complex dialogic relationship between the metaspace and dancers might be illuminated through the choreographic process. I was interested in this final phase to experiment further with ‘the unsteady state condition’ set against ideas of precariousness and precarity and their relationship to my working process.[1] I was curious to see whether I might disrupt or ‘unsteady’ some conventional or habitual approaches (mine and the performers) to making and performing HHDT, by implementing particular strategies and methods such as widening the scope for improvisation by embracing ‘Disorder’ (Barba, 2010: 17) and distilling the cypher down to its essential scenographic framework. This chapter discusses the final phase of my practice research and addresses the following questions:

  • How might a choreodramaturgical approach make it possible to explore the borders between process and protest with hip hop dance artists in the space of UK dance theatre?
  • How might Soja’s (1996) notion of Thirdspace inform the development of process(ing) and protest(ing) strategies and devices?
  • How might the unsteady state condition inform the conceptualisation of a Thirdspace for hip hop dance artists in the space of UK dance theatre?
  • How might this research inform an evaluation of my role in this field and invoke a critical appraisal of my position as a practising artist within the metaspace of HHDT?


In this chapter I use particular terminology to help frame the processes and practices employed.

Precariousness and Precarity

Political theorist Isabell Lorey describes a normative state of insecurity and precarity as one that has become an instrument of government and, at the same time, ‘a basis for capitalist accumulation that serves social regulation and control’ (2015: 1). She argues that we have now entered a dominant space of precarity as the state of being and of governance, and that ‘if we fail to understand precarisation, then we understand neither the politics nor the economy of the present’ (2015: 1).[2] I find it useful to draw on Lorey’s view in my analysis that HHDT moves in a space that reaches far beyond the final space in which a performance takes place. This wider conceptualisation of space implies there is a fundamental governmental precarisation that is entangled within supervisory strictures and structures derived from metaspatial discourses, where themes of gentrification and the financialisation of culture resonate.

Emerging from BLOCK, the conceptual underpinning of this practice stage, I drew on ideas of precariousness and applied them to my practice, exploring how I could instigate precariousness in the studio so that I might better understand it as a process. Through this approach I aimed to provoke and explore precarity as a prodigious mode of working, expecting that it might enable me to resist and disturb the formulaic processes and gestures of HHDT. The dance theorist Bob Schram writes that ‘precarity brings diverse bodies into alliance, if tenuously and contingently, in the name of representing a shared condition that needs to be challenged and contested in conflict with the powers that be’ (2013). Taking a similar idea in the studio setting and applying it in developing movement tasks that unsettled or challenged habitual ways of doing and thinking, I recognised that creative opportunity resides within the predicament of precariousness and its relationship to the shared unsteady sate condition.

Processual Accretion

The term ‘processual accretion’ evolved from my need to define a processual approach that moves beyond the idea of the studio-based entry point layering method discussed in chapter 3. I describe entry pointsas a nexus for devising, where individual task-based components such as text, scenography and movement are sequentially introduced to the dancer engaged in a specific devising task. From these multiple entry points a compositional layering process then develops from which detailed and textured performance material emerges. However,reflecting on the studio practice of the previous project (described in chapter 3) I realised that I was also doing many things simultaneously alongside the entry point layering method wherein layers of conceptual thinking, reflection and analysis came into play, linking the physical practice with broader sociopolitical themes circulating within the broader conceptual metaspace. Therefore, this notion moved my understanding and application of the entry point layering from solely working with a targeted physical method towards a complex accumulative process of entering, re-entering, evaluating and revisiting the accumulative effects of this process on the evolving performance material. In other words, the material I was making in the studio became infused by broader issues, themes and contexts existing outside the studio space, which influenced my thought process and orientation towards the work as it evolved and fed into the devising process. Furthermore, the idea of accretion moved my understanding towards how the evolving material functioned in relation to the evolution of conceptual ideas and my thinking practices.

The geological use of the term ‘accretion’[3] denotes ‘the imperceptible accumulation’ (Anand, 2006) of material relating to time. I use this definition to refer to the wider process of osmosis between practice and theory that has occurred through my practice research. I use ‘processual accretion’ to house the idea of myself as an artist becoming more porous in a subtle internal shift, which has enabled me to absorb sociocultural and political themes. These themes arise from the iterative cycle of doing and reflecting wherein I apply a wider sociopolitical lens, which impacts on my work by implicating the physical and perceptual movement(s) of dancer(s), spectator(s) and myself. I use ‘processual accretion’ to capture the processual and accumulative nature of what I do, and put the previous physical notion of entry point layering in dialogue with theoretical ideas, enabling a space of dialogue to occur between practice and theory. This enables me to absorb political themes and trends that imbricate my practice, some of which might already be present in dancers’ bodies or the spaces in which we move, and others which manifest around me such as the Grenfell Tower fire disaster (discussed in this chapter), and through the work itself. I use ‘processual accretion’ to facilitate an openness and awareness to themes, issues, trends and agendas hanging in the air and this enables me as a practitioner to acknowledge certain elements that attract my attention and play to the themes of my inquiry, then I can draw on this awareness through practice research. Thus I capture the evolving and mobile nature of this process.

Final Phase Project Timeline

Micro Project 2.1

This project took place at Contact Theatre in Manchester over two intensive six-hour working days on 2 and 3 April 2017 in which I worked with one male dancer in order to explore the relationship between precarisation and precarity and the unsteady state condition.

Micro Project 2.2

This took place in a small, shared office space at Praxis Studios in London N16, over three evening sessions, each of four hours’ duration on 5, 6 and 7 May 2017. I worked with three dancers (two male and one female) from the BLOCK project of 2015-16. The dancers were working solo and each dancer worked with me individually for one of the sessions. The aim of this stage was to further explore precariousness, precarity and the unsteady state condition, focusing on improvisation and exploring a Thirdspace (Soja, 1996) model for HHDT. The project intrinsically sought to question my ‘steadiness’ as an artist searching for the unsteady state condition.

Final Exposition

The exposition of practice took place at the University of Chichester, Dance Studio One, on 8 January 2018 at 4pm. I worked with the two male dancers from micro project 2.2. Preparation took place on 6 and 7 January and continued until the time of the exposition. The third (female) dancer from micro project 2.2 was unable to join the ensemble owing to injury. The exposition placed the research into an identifiable format, which enabled spectators and participants to see, and take part in, the process(ing) and protest(ing) that emerged as a final iteration of my practice research.

Micro Project 2.1 Precarity

Practical ideas of precarity arose from BLOCK as a means of conceptualising the unsteady state condition, one in which competing task-based components demand improvisatory responses from the dancers.[4] Emerging out of BLOCK, precariousness became a useful concept that I envisioned in a practical studio environment, where precariousness could be summoned through task-based methods that prescribed physical precarity for the dancer. In this experimental micro project I wanted to explore the unsteady state condition through practice, and precariousness presented itself as useful umbrella term to house practical and conceptual ideas of turbulence and the unsteady state condition.

At this stage, I had not yet developed Soja’s concept of a Thirdspace imaginary as a major theme in my practice or conceptualisation. However, the interplay between perceived, conceived and lived spaces that Soja discusses had begun to draw my attention towards complex ideas of spatiality that would develop out of micro project 2.1, and emerge as a major theme in the final stages of my practice (Soja, 1996).

A series of targeted sub-questions guided each of the two micro projects. Micro project 1 questioned:

  • Through what practical methods might I induce precarity in the space and dancer?
  • How might practical notions of precariousness develop and demonstrate unsteady state conditions in the studio?
  • How might a state of precarity reveal itself in or on the dancer’s body?
  • What are the implications of this method of working for the dancers and myself as a choreodramaturg?

In the studio, I began to explore precariousness as an invoked state by talking to the dancer about his struggles as an older artist securing work and support, the financial difficulties of living in London, his separation from his young daughter and other issues. This initial accretionary layer comprised a form of tacit probing that I carry from my many years as a theatre and dance practitioner and had developed in my practice research. I used it as a method of investigative conversation, a sociopolitical discourse that relied on a sense of empathetic listening and reflexive response, in order to create work rooted in the dancer’s personal experience, providing him with a strong reference point from which to explore the unsteady state condition. I have observed in previous work that this form of working often produces a type of material that allows dancers to connect with spatial politics beyond a superficial level. Through facilitating an empathetic connection to his life circumstances, I hoped that the dancer would be able to transcribe the conceptual metaspace into a corporeal understanding.

From this initial probing conversation, I identified that the dancer was describing a state of precariousness wherein spatial politics informed the conditions of his life as an artist and person, though it is debatable whether these two personas are separable. The inseparability of the performer from the politics of life frequently circulates in my practice research and in this respect my approach aligns with the work of practitioners such as Lloyd Newson and Augusto Boal.[5] Boal believed that the political and personal are intertwined through osmosis and that theatre is capable of reflecting and affecting this discourse (Boal, 1994). Newson’s work is politically charged, explicitly depicting a wide range of social conflicts drawn from extensive research and practice with the ensemble of dancers. In micro project 2.1, I hoped that spatial politics would be reflected in our exploration of precarity and its effect on (im)mobility in the studio. As a choreodramaturg, it was important to approach the work in this way because the connection between the metaspace and the studio space had become inseparable in BLOCK. I now deliberately sought to connect the two processually so the complex interplay between the two spaces might be further unpicked.[6]

By inviting precarity into the work space I hoped to increase the potential to keep ideas in flux, remaining open to new departures and radical shifts. I did this by employing tasks designed to make the dancer struggle and become disorientated, such as repeatedly executing a b-boy set while I stood over him or crowded in on him, disrupting his spatial awareness and requiring him to maintain eye contact with me throughout as I circled him while he changed pace and levels (figures 4.1 and 4.2).

Figure 4.1 Crowding in on Marso

Figure 4.2 Crowding in on Marso

I began by deliberately entering the studio with nothing more than soundscape material, a small amount of text to unpick and a willingness to improvise. I considered at the time that my approach would demand that the dancer and I improvise in response to the outcomes of accretionary tasks. I imagined, to some extent, that this approach would create conditions of corporeal precarity for the dancer and myself. However, after two days of exploration I concluded that I had not invoked processual turbulence or precarity to any significant degree to move myself towards a new spatial imaginary for my practice. This was partly because I had not been prepared for the degree to which the dancer would struggle with the conditions I imposed, and my inability to move beyond the limits of my embodied processual framework. From this I learned that I was contributing to the processual fixity in the space through my inability to develop beyond my steady state condition, and that I needed to radically challenge this by destabilising myself.

A Sudden Impasse

I had not expected the confrontational outcomes of my research that surfaced during micro project 2.1, which resulted in what I initially perceived to be a sudden and problematic realisation:while struggling to distil ideas around the unsteady state condition, I became aware of my embroilment within the practice research. In summary, I was faced with a dancer who was so tightly bound by the techniques and conventions of HHDT that his corporeality was seemingly impenetrable, and his habits of improvisation and visualisation were rigidly embodied. I had assumed that he would be able to improvise within any processual task I set him, yet it proved to be a mode of working that was counterintuitive to his previous experience and training within the arguably confining and restraining field of HHDT.

Bob Österlind argues that habits incorporate positive and negative attributes that are used to navigate everyday life, but ‘unreflexive habitual actions constitute an important aspect of social reproduction’ (2008: 71). In the studio the ‘unreflexive habitual actions’ equated to the corporeal reproduction of hackneyed and predictable dance motifs and this was problematic. I wanted to move beyond reproducing the dancer’s old habits garnered from HHDT in order to push the boundaries of what a new space for HHDT making and doing might look like.

The fixity we consistently encountered working together in the studio can be illustrated through a task where, drawing from the material of our initial probing conversation, I asked the dancer to engage with visualisation (figures 4.3 and 4.4).[7] I wanted him to combine the acts of looking, remembering and visualising to open his body to a possible connection with an imagined event. In doing so I hoped to invoke a palpable sense of unease and disturbance in the dancer, a sense of imbalance caused by being in a real moment, which might later emerge as movement.[8] However, after some time observing him I was not intuitively convinced by his seemingly blank stare into the distance and intervened to talk him about his young daughter, from whom he is separated, and his feelings and sense of loss when he is away from her.

Figure 4.3 Visualisation into movement

Figure 4.4 Observing the visualisation

The dancer re-engaged with the exercise and after some time I asked him to improvise movement in response to his situation, while maintaining the visualisation. I was initially confronted by what I refer to as ‘the system’, when the dancer went into his default movement(s), ones that I felt paid lip-service to the task. In other words, he began to act out the emotion of the situation via practised techniques drawn from his background of hip hop and contemporary dance. It all looked wonderfully choreographic and reflected, I argue, how a mainstream dance audience might expect the emotions of love, loss, turmoil to be signalled in dance theatre. The dancer’s movements created a sense of external representation as opposed to an embodied, visceral response to the task, which might invoke a sense of vulnerability and expose his honest engagement with the subject matter and his emotional response. The demonstrative way of moving that the dancer adopted often resides within HHDT and contemporary dance techniques to signal catharsis and struggle, the face wearing a glazed, mournful look, which displayed deeply felt emotions. Furthermore, I witnessed an inherent seeking of constant mobility and, once again, I was drawn further towards ideas of (im)mobility and stillness.

Ana Vujanović argues that still acts interrupt the flow of movement and in doing so challenge the ‘modern dance paradigm of movement [obtaining] a political dimension by the fact that it is the very paradigm of modernity and modern subjectivity in the Western world’ (2013: 189). The dancer acknowledged that it was extremely difficult to resist moving continually as he felt safe and in control doing so. Responding to this, I began to explore tasks to move him out of his comfort zone. Yet, the dancer appeared so disciplined by embedded corporeal training that the link between mind and body seemed prechoreographed and knowable. Here, I saw resonances of Lepecki’s (2013) idea of choreopolicing and of Foucault’s description of technical apprenticeships producing recognisable subjects:

The modelling of the body produces a knowledge of the individual, the apprenticeship of the techniques induces modes of behaviour and the acquisition of skills is inextricably linked with the establishment of power relations; strong, skilled agricultural workers are produced; in this very work, provided it is technically supervised, submissive subjects are produced and a dependable body of knowledge built up about them. This disciplinary technique exercised upon the body had a double effect: a ‘soul’ to be known and a subjection to be maintained.

(Foucault, 1991: 294)

This Foucauldian idea can be used when consideringthe linking of process to product that I describe in chapter 2, where funding and institutional structures maintain formulaic training programmes aimed at replicating commercially successful HHDT production techniques. In this instance, it was possible to consider the effects of the metaspace of HHDT and how the production of the dancer, or the dancer as product, operates within it.

 In the practice research setting of the studio, the dancer’s practised physical vocabulary limited his ability to ‘let go’, be still, or explore new propositions. Consequently, the movement pathway emanating from each of the tasks became identical and followed a gestural route, with archetypal movements signifying loss, grief, happiness and other emotions, often repeating themselves. The dancer was unable to engage with the task in a deeper way and his embedded movement vocabulary, garnered over many years dancing in the UK hip hop, contemporary and HHDT scenes, now appeared to confine him. The dancer’s inability to move in the unsteady state condition grew over the two days as I introduced text, sound and strategies of (im)mobility such as scaling down movement(s) to a bare minimum that registered only slightly larger than an impulse. I observed that he was in a precarious state, an unsteady studio environment where his normal modus operandi was negated as he was called on to explore intensity and density.[9] The dancer was unable to move within the conflict of the unsteady state condition in the studio.

Chiming with this circumstance, Adorno discusses an emerging culture industry where ‘there are no longer any real conflicts to be seen’, arguing that they are replaced by simulacra of ‘no real consequence’ (1991: 69). This simulacrum was written on the dancer’s movements, where staged habits acted out the presumed conclusions to the tasks rather than opening up new reflexive possibilities. There was no visible conflict and my attempts to disrupt the dancer’s corporeal habits continually failed, he could not stop himself repeating embedded motifs, often not realising he was doing it until we discussed it. My predicament as an artist was clearly revealed as I realised that I had a part in this and was working within the same parameters and constraints as the system that my research was critiquing, despite veering off-piste. I became aware that it was not only the dancer carrying steadied states as an embodied corporeal mechanism, but that despite my supposed state of awareness I also carried and enacted embodied mechanisms derived from years of (im)mobilisation within the dance theatre industry. Perhaps, the most embedded aspect of this was my struggle to reimagine my position as a participant in the processual precarity; consequently I had automatically stayed in my safe space of knowing, feeling the strain of leadership and fearing stepping fully into the fray. On reflection, I came to describe this as a sudden realisation slowly formedas, although it appeared to confront me suddenly in the studio, I had in fact reached this conceptual and physical precipice because of the cumulative work of my practice research over an extensive period.

Micro project 2.1 culminated in key problematic outcomes. I struggled to maintain the unsteady state condition with the dancer and observed that I was creating work that moved in a way I had predicted before entering the studio, and which therefore reflected my fear of exploring processual precarisation, precarity and the unsteady state condition. By stepping outside the commercial dance environment of my previous professional practice I had revealed my formulaic approach to creating work, through the time and space of my doctoral practice research. Consequently, I was forced to acknowledge my position in the HHDT metaspace as a hierarchical figure perpetuating dominant models of movement content generation. I had reached a personal precipice, one that I had unwittingly drawn myself towards. This led me to reflect that I was a part of the problem that I had identified in my research and I now needed to question what the difference was between the work I had already made and what I aspired to make. I began to think about the idea of a withdrawal of labour, not as full and final as a non-appearance or non-engagement, but rather as an interplay between the need to stay with the trouble (Haraway, 2016) and to be radically non-performative in the accepted sense or prescribed domain of HHDT.[10] Responding to this sudden artistic impasse I instinctively and immediately contacted the ensemble of dancers from the BLOCK project to organise micro project 2.2, as I felt that having been previously introduced to this provocative way of working they might be more attuned to challenging their accrued habits further. Through this second, previously unplanned, project I continued questioning my practice method, while wrestling with the provocations I had unearthed in micro project 2.1.

Micro Project 2.2 Improvised Journeys into Thirdspace

In micro project 2.2 I explore a radically different process in the studio in order to disrupt my habitual way of working. Up until this point my working method veered towards constructing the processual architecture and observing dancers moving within it, rather than moving within the processual turbulence with dancers and working it out from within (figure 4.5). I needed to set one foot in the cypher and the other in the outside world, to straddle the two in order to connect them.

Figure 4.5 Moving within processual turbulence

I agree with Pugalis and Giddins (2011)when they argue that any investigation of the production of space ‘is as much about the assembly process as it is about the assembled product’, drawing from their reading of Henri Lefebvre’s (1991) work on spatial trialectics.[11] I delved further into the assembly of my process to re-assemble the space of my practice. My approach in micro project 2.2 resonated with Randy Martin’s suggestion that politics might be imagined from within mobilisation, while at the same time responding to his clarion call to ‘preserve a space where new formations germinate’ so that co-optation does not consume the emergent ‘energies and demands that issue from social movements’ (1998: 13). In this micro project I decided to do very little structural preparation for the various movement devising sessions, preferring to improvise in response to the dancer’s responses and corporeal personalities, and the design, construction and atmosphere of the space we were working in. I wanted to know and predict less as I entered the studio. I needed to make what Robin Nelson refers to as a leap of de-familiarisation and reinvention (2013: 28). I wanted to dwell in a ‘place of suspension’, a term used by Rosemary Lee to denote a spatial–temporal link where the choreographer is between two places, where they have been and where they might be going, where they want to catch a glimpse of what is beyond, but perhaps do not want to leave what they know behind (2006 168).

The process of layering the movement tasks via multiple entry points, which emerged when I explored the unsteady state condition in BLOCK (discussed in chapter 3), did not adequately house the complexity of my research practice following micro project 2.1. For instance, to withdraw my labour I had first to identify the sedimentary layers of assimilated behaviour that had been unquestioned in my practice. I had to determine how my labour, as well as that of the dancers, was being legitimised and supervised, and how I embodied unconsciously assimilated behaviour in my practice. Therefore, in micro project 2.2, the choice to further unsettle my habits and to reflect on ‘habitus’ led me to use the term ‘processual accretion’ (Bourdieu, 1984: 170).[12] Reflecting on the interplay between ‘individual habitus, institutional habitus and choreographic habitus’ in HHDT practice, accretion became a useful term relating conceptually to the dispositions of the metaspace (Wainwright, Williams and Turner, 2006: 535). The metaspace of HHDT resounds with complex relationships between individuals, collectives and institutions, which are influenced by historical, sociocultural and political discourses. Recognising this complexity, my conception of processual accretion as a slow building up of layers that subtly shift and displace each other over time enabled me to unite broader conceptual thinking with the physicality of my choreographic practice.

In the studio, accretion adheres to a notion that every contact between choreographer and dancer leaves a trace. This supports my understanding of how multiple processual elements such as scenography, music, sound, text and bodies inform and unsteady each other. Additionally, I employ the term ‘accretion’ to denote how metaspatial contacts, such as allocated mentorships and funding demands, might contain notions of historic oppression and colonial encounters that have been embedded over time in institutions, individual psyches and the dancing body, a point argued by scholars in a variety of contexts, including dance and performance (Gotman, 2015; Harvie, 2005; Hoch, 2006; hooks, 2006). Equally, the accretion process was further informed by my absorption of sociopolitical and sociocultural themes, and contemporary news items, which affected me and fed into my process as a choreodramaturg.

In order to conceptualise how the spaces of studio practice, metaspace and the ephemeral space of process might interrelate, affect and disrupt each other my final phase of work was informed by the theories of political geographer and cultural theorist Edward W. Soja (1996). I undertook a practice-led approach to consider how Soja’s concept of Thirdspace might enable me to imagine another spatiality in my practice and in doing so better describe the unsteady state condition and its constitutive components. By using Soja’s ideas in my physical practice I unearthed and unpicked complex spatial relationships that inform the negotiations between myself as a practitioner and spectator, and the dancers. Additionally, Soja’s (1996) ideas chimed with my use of processual accretion and the acknowledgement that complex dialogic layers implicate the movement(s) of dancer(s), spectator(s) and myself as a practitioner.[13]

Micro project 2.2 enabled me to envision and explore practically a Thirdspace for HHDT, one that considered a dialogic relationship between three spaces that are not equally privileged in the discourse of HHDT:

  • the perceived material space of performance represented by institutional buildings such as Sadler’s Wells, The Place and the Barbican with their architectural, scenographic and staging traditions
  • how conceived histories inhabit the conceptual space of dance theatre, materialising through dominant artistic concepts that perpetuate continuums and movement paradigms
  • representational space, which designates the lived reality that emanates from the privileging of Firstspace and Secondspace in defining the lived space of performance.

An example of the latter is the representational space of HHDT currently defined by a Firstspace where the architecture, staging and material production frameworks are inherited and assimilated into HHDT processes and performances. The Secondspace in HHDT can be seen where dominant conceptual canons of artistic and aesthetic practice manifest on stage through ideas such as privileging virtuosity as physical excess, the conceived ideas of the four elements, or West-End-inspired staging full of synchronised dance routines and demonstrative action. From these two privileged spaces emerges a binary dialogic dominance that defines the conceptual and material framework of how HHDT looks and moves, constructing the representational space. Therefore, emerging from the privileging of a discourse about Firstspace and Secondspace, the representational space designates who performs where, when, how and under what conditions.

I secured an office space I had not seen before (shown in Figure 4.7) and entered it with just a few pieces of abstract music and some images. I was initially taken aback by how small the space was, full of props and office furniture. However, this unplanned spatial dynamic demanded processual and physical improvisation, fostering unforeseen outcomes that responded to the unsteady state condition that I had been conceptualising. In doing so, I could challenge the representational space of HHDT. In HHDT the perceived and conceived spaces of practice are very much mediated around a type of studio space commonly associated with UK contemporary dance, often a reasonably sized open and empty space with special flooring. Yet, as my discussion of the HHDT metaspace suggests, these structures are not empty and contain inherited traces of convention that explicitly and implicitly suggest a certain way of doing things, a certain manner of process(ing) and moving. These signatures are constituted by multiple components, including architectural and scenographic, that represent ‘extant norms and conventions’ (Kowal, Sigmund and Martin, 2017: 1), a perceived way of behaving based on conceived notions of creating movement that resonate in these traditional spaces. Therefore, by proposing a dialogic relationship between size, proximity and altered perspectives, the office space of micro project 2.2, allowed me to investigate an-Other(Soja, 1996) way of process(ing) with HHDT artists.[14] The office space embodied the administrative hold over creativity that my research problematised, raising complex notions where my work could be considered as both a product of and a challenge to the creative industries model that the office represented. This was an unanticipated outcome where the shifting of space was productive in itself. Ironically, I had been forced for economic reasons into the small space, to move in(to) a non-traditional HHDT setting, cluttered with the debris of arts administration, and yet the space was productive for my practice. The space and circumstances demanded that I reflexively reimagine what I had done to date, leading me to act more intuitively. I wanted to test the link between Soja’s ideas of spatiality and my emerging ideas about processual and corporeal unsteadiness and improvisation in HHDT. To achieve this, I thought about Soja’s ideas in relation to my studio process to consider how they applied to my work.

Figure 4.7 Small spaces, micro project 2.2 with dancer Jordan, 6 June 2018

An initial task at the beginning of each four-hour session was creating the space for dialogue (probing) with each dancer. This allowed me to enter the dancers’ lives and discuss the spatial politics of their encounters since we last worked together. I had instigated this probing approach in micro project 2.1 but with less success, perhaps because I was encountering a new dancer and the process was brief. The empathy between the ensemble and dancers’ willingness to share, established with the BLOCK project dancers, allowed these dialogues to emerge holistically over time in micro project 2.2. This action chimed with the idea that ‘the dance ensemble is a microcosm of world structure, related in important ways to the larger concerns of societies and cultures’ (McKechnie and Stevens, 2009: 93). In micro project 2.2 I wanted to build on the principle of empathetic ensemble sharing to make it an intrinsic part of my process. As we sat together in close proximity discussing our lives with each other, the probing action created a kinesthetic and empathetic starting point, which was particularly amplified in the confines of the small, intimate space. Stemming from the probing, each solo dancer stood in the space and slowly navigated an unsteady state condition, invoked as I introduced layers of instructions and stimuli such as images, music and text. At times, I improvised instructions in response to the emerging material created by a dancer or altered my instructions in order to prevent the performance of a favourite or habitual physical motif from occurring. An example of such a task is presented here through a diary extract from my studio process journal:

Standing with their back towards me the dancer spent time absorbing a series of images relating to displacement. The images were taken from the drowning of a three-year-old refugee boy called Alan Kurdî (Figures 4.8 and 4.9) that flooded the media in 2015, coming to symbolise the plight of Syrian refugees. Additionally, I shared images of homelessness (Figures 4.10 and 4.11), identifying in my conceptual argument a link between the precarity and turbulence of being displaced, whether on a local or global scale. I did this because I wanted to explore (im)mobilisation both physically and emotionally and how the dancer and myself might move and respond in a landscape built from what I considered to be politically charged stimuli. The images contributed to a bricolage of accretionary material that was, for me, representative of the political moment we were moving in. After some time, the dancer began to move in response to the images and during this period I would, for instance, explore instructions to change pace, extend, contract or minimise as they continued the improvisations.

(Studio Journal, 6 May 2018)

Figure 4.8 Alan Kurdî

Figure 4.9 Alan Kurdî

Figure 4.10 Homeless people in London

Figure 4.11 Homeless people in London

The extract above illustrates how my studio practice engaged with three ontological fields equally, a trialectic discourse,where each contains the other (Soja, 1996: 70–72), allowing me to work in a mode that I felt protested the dominant dyad of Firstspace and Secondspace that dominates the representation of HHDT. In other words, my studio work equally privileged a consideration of historically driven conceptual performance paradigms, inherited performance spaces and the actuality of mine and the dancers’ lived sociality. In this way, the metaspace was in an explicit dialogical negotiation with my practice and I began to see a possible Thirdspace of practice emerging from and within the negotiation between Firstspace, Secondspace and Representational space. In Soja’s (1996) treatise on Thirdspace I found an appropriate conceptual idea capable of further explaining and informing the space(s) that my practice research negotiated with. This experimental space of unknowing is not a comfortable place to be, as Rosemary Lee acknowledges. However, in the studio it became a necessary place to be, where the logic and rigour of ‘Disorder’ (Barba, 2010: 17), discussed in chapter 1, constituted the unsteady state condition. I see in Lee’s description of unknowing a resonance with Soja’s concept of Thirdspace wherein where we have been, in this case choreographically, is not cast off in favour of the space we hope to glimpse, but scrutinised in order to reimagine it. Expanding on Lee’s premise, my practice research identifies a complex metaspatial dialogue that resonates in HHDT movement(s). Here my imagining of a Thirdspace emerging from a dialogue between perceived, conceived and representational spaces helps me to engage with the complexity of the politically charged spatial dynamic of HHDT to explore practical alternatives in the studio.

As the dancers’ improvisations evolved, I introduced music to limit the temporal framework of the improvisation and disrupt the continuity of movement. The music track, Have Mercy on my Mother’,[15] was 2.22 minutes in length. I chose this track because it evoked an emotional response in me without my needing to understand, or be distracted by, the lyrics. The track conveys a strong sense of grief in the way it is sung, where audible gasps and exhalations of breath continue throughout, giving the music a sense of longing and mourning.However, emotional response to music is a complex area to unpick and it is not my intention to attempt to do so, remembering Meyer’s warning that ‘any discussion of the emotional response to music is faced at the very outset with the fact that very little is known about this response and its relation to the stimulus’ (1956: 6). However, the music had various effects on the dancers and me, as noted in my studio process journal:

Jordan is moving, suspending and collapsing, as if the breaths of the singer run through him, invoking palpable sensations of intensity and unsteadiness in the tiny space. The improvisations continue repeatedly for a long period so that Jordan becomes immersed in the process, accruing responses of varying complexity. At times he becomes immobile, whilst at others contorting inwards or gently rolling through extended limbs as the collision of music, images, scenography and physical tasks maintain the unsteady state condition. The competing tasks interrupt each other, forming layers that are steady in moments yet in others become unsteady and unpredictable. Jordan moves through different levels of energy and placement, demonstrative movement is displaced and corporeally precarious suspensions and collapses based on the singer’s audible breaths are explored. I can see the development of precarisation as a spatial condition, unsettling him, not allowing him to settle or gain respite from the accumulative processual material, encouraging him to explore the corporeal sensibility of precarity in an on-going and at times, relentless manner.

(Studio Journal, 6 May 2018)

For the final stage of the exercise, I replaced the music with another track, tasking the dancer to ignore the new music while retaining the original music and imagery in his body and physical responses. This task led me to develop a method whose accretionary components worked to displace each other, invoking a sense of turbulence that affected the way in which the dancer chose to be (im)mobile. This is illustrated by an extract from my studio process journal:

In the temporarily demarcated area of the experimental task Jordan instilled the space with an intensely felt state of precarity. To myself as an onlooker, his struggle in the space – his real line of action created by the task, yet set against an almost rabid sounding musical track[16] – encapsulates the unsteady state condition, becoming virtuosic because of this ability to negotiate and dance within these disorderly multiple layers of competing stimuli/entry points. My observations are informed by Jordan’s execution of movements that are unpredictable, often in momentary free-fall as they reach a point of sudden stillness, a pop, jab or breathe re-igniting the struggle and intensity of the dance in response to the fragmented chaos of the accretionary tasks intermingling and colliding.

(Studio Journal, 6 May 2018)

I continued testing these conditions with each individual dancer by invoking an iterative cycle (Smith and Dean, 2009) based on the initial tasks I had explored with dancer 1. Put simply, I repeated processual tasks with each dancer to ascertain the accretionary elements that might be relied on to produce the unsteady state condition. In this way, I deepened my knowledge of the dancers as individuals and responded choreographically through the implementation of accretionary disruption in order to continue to pursue reliable processual unsteadiness.

In a final example that illustrates the accretionary process, I explored a task that developed organically when I asked Jordan to read aloud some academic text that debated finance, gentrification and commodified art. We discussed what he saw as the ‘dense’ wording of the text and the intrinsic meaning that lay within it, deciphering and translating any jargon into simpler language.[17] Through this process, Jordan comprehended the language of a certain style of writing, one that discussed metaspatial concerns that touched on artistic practice in the UK. As the task developed he began to explore moving within the language. I explored this task in response to a notion of exclusion that I believe resides in enclaves of academia and government organisations. In my experience, the level of formal education that facilitates the deciphering and understanding of discourses emanating from such enclaves is difficult to access for marginalised social classes in the UK. This argument stems from the personal experiences of the dancers and myself. Writing about the overuse of jargon in academia, Mulgan pointed out, ‘these are not flippant concerns [and] in an age when many more people have to work and communicate across disciplinary boundaries these things matter’ (1996). Furthermore, I argue that government bodies are increasingly guilty of using jargon to obscure their actions and this relates to the metaspace of HHDT. In an interview with Christian Borch, Soja describes an interrelatedness between class and space as a ‘socio-spatial dialectic, with social relations and forms (e.g. class) and spatial relations and forms (geography/spatiality) mutually constructed’ (2004: 115), each shaping the other. Here, Soja’s notion of the dialogic relationship between perceived, conceived and lived spaces illuminated my practical parry in what I saw as an imbalanced relationship between class and a spatial dialectic. I deemed the deciphering task to be a political action or image designed to facilitate a structure where hip hop dance artists were seen and heard so they could comprehensively express the material they were navigating in the exposition. After all, the material communicated the metaspace that defined the dancers’ movements on stage and off stage.

Robin Nelson asserts the primacy of practice in practice-as-research, saying that ‘practitioner-researchers do not merely think their way through or out of a problem, but rather they “practice” to a resolution’ (2013: 10). In this case, as discussed in the examples of micro projects 2.1 and 2.2, I was returning to the studio after an extensive period of reflection following the large-scale BLOCK project, to practise my way through provocations surrounding my processual architecture. I emerged from this final practice research phase with a clearer notion of how to create the unsteady state condition practically through task-based processual accretion. I had come to recognise that the ability to create, and move within, precarious spatial conditions was central to my idea of process(ing) and protest(ing) the position I had found myself in through my many years working with hip hop dance artists in the space of UK dance theatre. In order not to be a part of the problem, I had begun to stop (re)producing the standardised model of HHDT creation, yet I was staying with the trouble (Haraway, 2016) by exploring new processes. My subsequent task was to maintain the iterative cycle of my methodological approach by once again reflecting on my practice and returning for one final time to a performance space to share my research journey.

Final Exposition Process(ing) and Protest(ing)

My decision to bring the outside world (the metaspace) into the studio meant that my practice research did not happen in a vacuum and it reflects the socioeconomic times in which it took place. Therefore my thinking has been framed not only by intimate conversations with dance artists but by the news footage of events that have occurred around me. As a practitioner, these events have informed my choice of stimuli and themes for exploration and influenced how I consider bodies and movement in particular circumstances and environments. In dialogue with these concerns, the emerging Thirdspace of my practice acknowledged (im)mobility and how it might be explored choreographically. It was a notion that allowed me to consider the wider societal context and set it against the processual and performance architecture of my choreographic approach. In accord with Kowal, Siegmund and Martin’s assertion that ‘dance and politics move and move one another in complex and myriad ways’ (2017: 1), my practice brought dance and politics together so I could examine the complexity of the wider events that I was witnessing, becoming a locus for my subject material. For instance, through my conceptualisation of a HHDT metaspace I perceive the impact of gentrification on hip hop dance artists wanting to explore theatre. My investigation of this complex relationship is drawn from a deep engagement with the working processes and performance of HHDT. My working and observational interactions with artists moving through HHDT have enabled me to develop an appropriate and rigorous conceptual framework to my practice. I apply this lens to analyse the experiences of dance artists, including myself, who are working within and without HHDT.

Access to housing, travel and secure living conditions is inextricably linked to the financialisation of the city and the individual, so the rising costs of subsistence in London define the routes that many artists must take in order merely to survive. Consequently, events such as the Grenfell Tower fire, which happened in the exclusive and wealthy borough of Kensington and Chelsea, filtered into my project. Katrin Bennholdwrote forThe New York Times,’Ferraris and Opera Were Urgent but Grenfell Tower Risks Went Unheeded … the charred remains of Grenfell Tower have become a shocking symbol of inequality at the heart of the capital itself’ (2017).[18] Bennhold’s article aptly summarises what I and many others (e.g. Bloomer, 2017; Vulliamy, 2017) see as the social cleansing that is taking place in London. ‘Gentrifiers focus on aesthetics, not people. Because people, to them, are aesthetics’ (Kendzior, 2014)and it is not unreasonable to assert that as London rapidly gentrifies so does its artistic output. In a discussion of the arts’ role in gentrification, Kendzior argues that ‘urban decay becomes a set piece to be remodelled or romanticised [and this] is hipster economics’ (2014) and I argue that, in dance, this involves the co-optation of vernacular forms to be remodelled by the dominant Western canon. In this way, HHDT can be examined as a microcosm of a wider metaspatial discourse (as discussed in detail in chapter 2).

During the final stages of my research, the impact of gentrification on societal and artistic (im)mobility became an unavoidable point of interest in my work and an exploratory component of a potential Thirdspace, one that questioned the concept and reality of gentrification. Soja argues that ‘we must be insistently aware of how space can be made to hide consequences from us, how relations of power and discipline are inscribed into the apparently innocent spatiality of social life, how human geographies become filled with politics and ideology’ (1989: 6). Pine and Kuhlke implicitly refer to similar sociopolitical themes when they write that dancing bodies ‘contort to specific sites where they are dancing, the cultural codes that constrict what movements are acceptable’ (2014 207). My physical practice, not unlike Soja’s or Pine and Kuhlke’s theoretical ones, is influenced by a wider spatial perspective, a politicised domain where human geographies are unpicked, a perspective that cannot be avoided by retreating to the studio, but, I argue, must be brought into the studio. Therefore, bearing the weight of these concerns, in my final exposition I wanted to discuss and radically challenge the processual and performance model of HHDT. In doing so I hoped to identify a wider societal context that is filled with political and ideological movement(s) that inform the choreography of what is seen on stage. Pellegrino identifies ‘practice as the situated and material locus where proximity, mobility and immobility are put forward, challenged and realised [and] where different assemblies of (im)mobility and types of proximity are practiced and constructed’ (2011: 3). The following examples illustrate how my final exposition responded to Pellerino’s argument by exploring new choreographic assemblies in HHDT, where proximity, (im)mobility and other spatial components were re-imagined through practice.


In my final exposition, Process(ing) and Protest(ing) (8 January 2018), Ipresented a corporeal introduction in the form of a conventional and predictable hip hop dance motif that exemplified a particular form of movement identity. This summarised the HHDT product and what the dancers and I perceived to be a widely propagated and formulaic notion of a particular corporeal image. We wanted to choreograph a form of archetypal phrase that can be seen across a broad range of work that lays claims to hip hop dance. This choreographic task involved capturing the physical essence of a formula that can be observed in HHDT shows, on music videos, in dance challenges and in the content of competitions such as BBC Young Dancer, where there is a specific category for street dance.[19] I chose the opening dance motif to represent physically the dangers of formulaic work deriving from hegemonic expectations (Uno, 2006) and the choreographed beginning of the exposition explored physically the co-optation of hip hop dance by outside producers. I wanted to employ a subliminal flash of imagery that would be gone almost as soon as it had appeared, an image strong enough to register with those who glimpsed it, but not long enough to place and take hold of the space. This task had a sense of fun and created a useful starting point to a journey that was eventually to demand a lot from the dancers and to some degree from the audience.

I asked my dancers to create what they considered to be a clichéd, corporate mainstream hip hop dance routine. The dancers spent some considerable time distilling the movements to their finest emblematic point so that it became an ironically choreographed demonstration of choreopoliced movement (Lepecki, 2013).[20] This was one of the few choreographed phrases in the exposition, an image that contained and framed what we would unpick and dismantle in what was to follow. This micro-moment at the beginning of the exposition was significant in my thought process and created a physical representation of what Gotman describes as the ‘image of the institution’ (2015: 66).[21] Additionally, this theme responded to the idea that ‘movement always represents more than itself’ (Johnson, 2009: 7) and in this case the physical motif illustrated some of the complex discourse of (im)mobility that my research engages with. In a simple and visceral way, I wanted to begin the exposition with a physical reminder that resistance via social movements is all too easily co-opted and subsumed by what Adorno describes as the ‘culture industry’ (1991: 98). Although Adorno coined the term in 1947, the discourse surrounding the culture industry continues to invoke scrutiny (Gotman, 2015; Harvie, 2013; Lepecki, 2016) and scholars continue to debate the culture industry’s(or more recently used terminology of culture industries) expansive and coercive grip on the arts, including dance and theatre.

While I regard the UK cultural industries as representing a form of power, I also recognise that ‘power is not evil. Power is games of strategy’(Foucault, 1997: 298).Therefore, although I argue that HHDT artistic practice is predominantly connected to commercial imperatives, this does not mean that I think it is completely driven by them or beyond the possibility of resistance or engagement in complex commercial negotiations. As an example, young artists like Botis Seva continue to rise within the realms of cultural industry prerogatives while at the same time resisting the dominant paradigms associated with HHDT. In an interview for the Guardian, Seva clearly asserts the need for more experimental work to access centre stage saying, ‘there needs to be much more, especially within the hip-hop theatre world. Even Sadler’s Wells […] is very traditional in ballet and contemporary dance’ (Williams, 2018).

Withdrawal of Labour as Nonperformance

The withdrawal of labour that I wanted to explore in the process and performance of the final exposition phase resonated with Lepecki’s borrowing from Fred Moten of the term ‘nonperformance’ (2016: 14). I find it useful to use this term to describe the dancers’ non-engagement with the normative state of HHDT performance. The idea of nonperformance in and of itself can invoke a feeling of vulnerability and precarity for HHDT performers and makers, who work in conditions that demand that they fill the space with movement. Kwame Asafo-Adjei spoke of the movement demands placed on HHDT artists saying, ‘maybe it’s the systematic form of being in a studio creating choreography, that systematic repetition of doing that has almost in a sense brainwashed you into believing you don’t have to be disciplined to just be still at that moment. It comes from hip hop because it’s very active’ (interview with the author, 20 June 2017). My exploration of the withdrawal of labour challenged the physical excess associated with HHDT, in order to engage with density and intensity through complex processual accretion. However, the idea of nonperformance as a political act is not new. Members of the Judson Dance Theatre (1962-1964) explored ways of rejecting the dominant dance performance codification of ballet and modern dance and in many ways signalled the arrival of postmodern dance as outlined in Yvonne Rainer’s famous ‘no’ statement (Banes, 1987). A rejection of staging and scenographic models such as the proscenium arch allowed Judson to challenge dance performance conventions and became a way of ‘examining their own identity [and in doing so] they examined the identity of the arts they practiced’ (Banes, 1987: 101). By withdrawing labour, via the nonperformance of expected canonical conventions, my exposition carried lineage from artists like the Judson group who responded to the precarious political times of post-war 1960s America by rejecting the performance aesthetics of the moment. The embroilment of dance aesthetics with politics is as evident today as it was then and the final stage of my practice responded to the precarious political times that I witnessed developing around me, finding possibilities in exploring what might be deemed nonperformance (Kowal, Siegmund and Martin, 2017).


Adding to the challenge of nonperformance, my practice revealed improvisation as a key component in the creation and maintenance of the unsteady state condition. Here, I use the term ‘improvisation’ to refer to the development of free movement within a set of tasks and boundaries defined by processual accretion.[22] As an example, in the final exposition, the central improvised task was bound by the length of the soundscape, the architectural structure of the mattresses, and recorded narratives. In this way, the improvisations were both structured and destabilised: temporally, scenographically and aurally. This approach is rare in HHDT and challenges the elevated role of choreography within the format. In many ways, I argue that the final exposition created space for the dancers to return to an aesthetic of improvisation that can be found in the vernacular cyphers of breaking, krump, house and other manifestations of hip hop dance, yet without the expectation of virtuosity implicit in a battle context.

Writing about constraint and improvisation, Danielle Goldman echoes Foucault’s (1991) writing on practices of freedom to argue that symbiosis necessarily exists between constraint and freedom and that improvisation arises from, and moves in relation to, these circumstances. Improvised dance, Goldman argues, is ‘giving shape to oneself by deciding how to move in relation to an unsteady landscape’ (2010: 5). My doctoral exposition illustrated this argument as a broader notion that moved beyond the literal physical practice of individual dancers to examine how an improvisatory practice can permeate and surface within the processes and structures of HHDT performance. To explore and illustrate this process I returned to the destabilising, precariousness thematic that had been hinted at in BLOCK, using mattresses and a scenographic cypher formation to position spectators. I wanted to develop the thematic further so that the proximity between the dancers and spectators implicated the spectators as active spatial co-habitants able in some way to exercise agency. By reconfiguring the spatial proximity of the dancer and spectators for the final exposition, I hoped that questions about perspective, agency and (im)mobility might emerge.

Exposition Architecture

The cypher–exposition format became a scenographic construct capable of maintaining amplified connections between the dancers and spectators in performance. Using a small cypher as the central unifying structure, I could elicit kinesthetic empathy between the spectators and dancers. The cypher created close physical proximity between the dancers and spectators, questioning the spectators’ traditional role in HHDT by blurring the lines between participant and spectator. In this setting the spectators became liminal individuals ‘neither here nor there […] betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention, and ceremony’ (Turner, 1966: 94). The cypher exposition drew the dancers and spectators towards a sense of collectivity by asking them to occupy a liminal space in its explicit physical protest of mainstream expectations of them both.

The architecture of the exposition called for intimate physical proximity between the dancers and the spectators through the configuration of the space. I had placed marks on the floor to demarcate standing positions for the spectators – with two free spaces allowing for movement from one mark to another. This enabled spectators to change position and examine different perspectives in the space if desired. This structure demanded a sense of what one spectator described as ‘care for each other’ (audience feedback, in conversation with author, 8 January 2018) and another as questioning one’s causal part in the precarity (figures 4.12 and 4.13). One question voiced by several of the participants afterwards was, ‘if needed would you catch the falling dancer or step out of the way?’ (audience feedback, in conversation with author, 8 January 2018). This questioning indicates a sense of a shared precarity, where the architecture of the unsteady state condition influenced notions of personal and collective agency. The spectator’s questioning can be viewed as an imaginary, spatial contemplation, derived from the possibilities suggested by the dynamic of the cypher and its components. Additionally, the question implies a need to be ready and prepared, to improvise and react to the unfolding situation (Goldman, 2010). Dance studies scholar Imani Kai Johnson makes a similar observation when describing hip hop cyphers and circles as ‘unscripted’ (2009: 1), involving a ‘dynamic exchange’ (2009: 2) between participants. In the final exposition event, the spectators and the dancers were all part of the exposition cypher and, in this ‘tight space’ (Goldman, 2010: 6), breath, sweat and struggle intermingled, the lines of participation became blurred and notions of a duty of care, demanded by the proximity, were summoned. The conceptual and physical architecture of the exposition responded to the idea of a Thirdspace (Soja, 1996) practice, where new themes emerged, often unexpectedly, as with the complex and fluctuating interplay between proximity, (im)mobility, perspective and agency (PIPA), expressed in the spectators’ comments. Shifting dialogic elements including scenography, text, sound and corporeal intimacy created the tight physical space of the exposition cypher. In this environment, the dancers’ corporeal engagement with im(mobility) was in dialogue with the spectators’ proximity, housing ideas of constraint and dissent where participants’ roles were questioned.

The central improvised section of the exposition unfolded over a six-minute period performed by two dancers on top of two precariously balanced mattresses. The section was neither a solo nor a duet, but embraced and demanded moments of both from the dancers.

Figure 4.12 Proximity, kinesthetic empathy and precarity

Figure 4.13 Proximity, kinesthetic empathy and precarity

The improvised movement score employed within the exposition’s partially framed structure enabled me to explore very clear spatial concepts and physical conditions. The spectator–witness–dancer relationship raised the question of an ethical responsibility to ‘hold’ the performance and performers and to consider their engagement with the issues and their place in the metaspatial construct. One spectator asked if I wanted them to ‘take part in the issues or the corporeality and the movement’ (audience feedback, in conversation with author, 8 January 2018), to which I answered that I wanted the corporeality and movement to encourage them to take part in the issues. I wanted momentarily to shatter the illusion of individualism by encouraging collectivity and the architecture of the cypher became a starting point for that by blurring the line between spectator and dancer and between individual and collective. The competing accretionary components created turbulence and precarity for the dancers as they wrestled to engage with them and this filtered through to the spectators who, as indicated in their previous questions, felt moments of conflict or vulnerability. A sense of nuanced collective dramaturgy could be felt in the exposition cypher and resembles the collective dramaturgy that exists in the hip hop dance cypher, reclaimed here as a staging mechanism and bound to ideas of kinesthetic empathy.

The exposition model allowed me to explore the idea that ‘precariousness relates not to life itself, but rather to the conditions of its existence’ (Lorey, 2015: 19) and the choreographing of the spectators and dancers allowed me to create precariousness as a choreographic output and a means of testing a Thirdspace for HHDT. The exposition created a structure where multiple components could interact, for instance, in the central improvisatory section between the dancers and the simultaneous voiceover narratives of former Grenfell Towers resident Nadia Zoraya Asili (Appendix 4.1.) and Professor Loretta Lees’ academic presentation on gentrification (Appendix 4.2.). Asili (aka Dj Isla) was one of first people on the scene of the Grenfell Towers fire and the recorded narrative of her account used in the exposition is extremely visceral in its delivery, encapsulating an emotional and angry reaction to the events and what she viewed as a media cover up when she arrived at the scene. Prior to the final exposition, I allocated a particular narrative for each dancer to follow: dancer 1 was directed to Lees’ narrative, while dancer 2 was directed to Asili’s transcript. They improvised their movement material on the top of one set of single, doubled-up mattresses. This created the scenographic circumstance of a sinking raft or a tiny enclosed space and placed the dancers in extreme proximity to each other. Lees’ and Asili’s voiceovers were played simultaneously in the exposition, and the participants attempted or chose to (un)follow one or both while the physical proximity defined by the cypher formation added to the empathetic exchanges: between dancers and spectators, material and dancers, and material and spectators.

The parameters for the central improvisation were discovered in studio tasks where I asked the dancers to stand in the space and listen to each narrative. I then put the soundtrack on a loop so the dancers could spend time with it and work towards externalising movement(s), being (im)mobile, in relation to how they absorbed the narrative. I gave no further instructions and observed the dancers’ engagement in an external–internal–external continuum, where the external narrative found internal empathetic, corporeal space in the dancers’ bodies and navigated its way outwards via their movement, wrestling with (im)mobility. Dancing to Lees’ narrative, dancer 1 intermittently embodied tense krump movements to then arrive at a place of exhausted stillness, as if he was shocked by the cold facts that he was hearing and absorbing. Through this device, he was rendered immobile in his dance in a manner that reflected his description of struggling to move within the city. Moving differently, dancer 2 attempted to flow through the narrative using softer movements but still containing movement ‘pops’ born of contractions in the arms and chest. Interestingly, however, dancer 2 also encountered spaces of immobility within his solo material, as if ground to a halt. I interpreted this as a process through which Lee’s narrative of displacement and precarity merged with the dancers’ bodies and together they illustrated the particular themes and concerns of the text of the soundtrack.

Moving from Lees’ academic narrative of gentrification I wanted to see how the dancers would inhabit Asili’s words and emotions and how this might juxtapose with Lees’ almost clinical, academic definition of gentrification. In the studio explorations, dancers 1 and 2 were frozen through the first listening and as the narrative looped and they began to dance, they called on physical jabs, contractions and pops, and foot stomps associated with krump, to release the anger that was seeking a route outward, from the internal to the external. Both dancers wrestled with these routes, not able to dance in many moments, but seemingly filling-up, paralysed or perhaps immersing themselves in the emotive energy and imagery of the words, and the guttural grief that was often conveyed within them. Consequently, when the movement was released it was intense and powerful, as if created and chosen in that very moment to protest the metaspace the narrative described. It was, I felt, movement as an empathetic corporeal protest containing the (im)mobility allocated by precarisation, and a felt sense of social injustice. At this point the dancers were working independently of each other, yet I recognised that precarity created a unifying spatial energy that, when deliberately sought out, influenced those within the space.

The Narrative of Marx: Historico-temporal Constraint

Although pre-dating Lepecki’s (2013) description of choreopolicing, in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (2001 [originally written in 1852]) Karl Marx described a similar idea about the burden that dominant histories impose on the present (Appendix 4.3.). Furthermore, Marxist themes run through the particular aspects of Foucault’s work on domination and the practice of freedom which I have discussed in detail in chapter 2 (Olssen, 2004). Adding to the implicitly Marxist thread that emerged through my inquiry, Soja’s concepts of the spatiality of life illustrate how geography and Marxism join together through Thirdspace thinking. Therefore, In a short exposition that aimed to impact, evade, protest, re-define, reject and retreat from the space HHDT was contained within, I felt that Marx’s writing succinctly defined a part of my process(ing) and protest(ing), as demonstrated in this extract from the original by Marx: ‘Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living’ (2001:7). The extract resonates with my ideas on several levels and I employed it at the start of the exposition as a form of historical perspective. Speaking the words while carrying the heavy mattress on his back, the dancer physically inscribed a temporal timeline across the space, his struggle to traverse it emphasising the content of the speech. Additionally, Marx’ speech contains ideas of accretion through the notion that every contact leaves a trace throughout history, becoming a form of historical transmission, describing the coercive nature of history bearing down on the present.

The metaspatial narrative I describe in relation to HHDT is informed by the historico-temporal constraints Marx describes and illustrates in his narrative. This is clarified in the final part of the original passage where Marx writes that at ‘precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honoured disguise and borrowed language’ (2001: 7). Marx’s speech warns of the coercive impact of historical traditions, suggesting historical precedents. Therefore, rather than suggesting that HHDT ‘contributes to political causes [or that it might] prepare the ground for future political action’ (Kowal, Siegmund and Martin, 2017: 4), I drew on Marx to further illustrate that HHDT moves within a domain that resonates with politics, ‘the politics of dance’ (4) and ‘as such’ (4) it is political.

To extend the writing’s accessibility to a younger demographic, I collaborated with BLOCK writer Martin Stannage. He adapted the passage to echo the zombie horror genre so that it began with ‘we live in a perpetual Night of the Living Dead. While we sleep, the corpses of past generations pull themselves from their graves, scratch at our windows and whisper ideas from the past’ (Appendix 4.3.). Stannage concluded the metaphor by writing:

but they keep coming, lumbering forward, mindlessly mumbling their hateful slogans at us. Even when we pull out our shotguns and blow the heads off their shoulders, more of us just get covered in their brain matter, dripping in dogma, swallowing dead ideology.[23]

I wanted briefly to explore re-igniting Marxist theory in a theatrical context, working towards a clearer and more immediate understanding of his writing by placing it in an empathetic and visceral theatrical scenario. This strategy immediately brought Marx’s writing alive in the space and contextualised it as an image within the piece. The section contributed to a form of Thirdspace positioning in which political theorising was made corporeal and visceral by those who I argue are being blocked out of the wider political discourse of gentrification as represented in the hegemonic supervision of HHDT.

Figure 4.14 Jordan dragging the mattress

The Marx narrative appeared at the beginning in the final exposition as dancer 2 arose from his position on the fringes of the space, collecting the mattress he had been lying on and, turtle like, trudged with it on his back towards the centrally lit spot where another mattress and another dancer sat (figure 4.14). Here, with the help of the second dancer, a fellow member of the precariat, he dragged his mattress onto the existing one and they supported each other to step up onto the precariously balanced construction. As he made the short but arduous journey towards the light he spoke the words of the updated speech and they seemed to weigh doubly heavy as they meshed with the corporeal moment, conjuring notions of displacement, history repeating itself and failed revolution. This moment influenced the dynamics of the space as the audience and dancers broke the comfortable and normative HHDT convention of end-on performance, replacing it with an immersive proximity and intimacy. In doing so, shifting perspectives and empathetic connections were encouraged. It might even be said that agential shifts were questioned as the cypher formation blurred the lines between looking at, being looked at and being within for those present. Accompanied and inspired by the Marx-inspired soundtrack, this moment illustrated a form of process(ing) where virtuosity was not demonstrated through an excess of movement, but rather when considering the complex accretionary components that informed the moment the dancer was navigating within. In this context, scenography, text, subject matter and movement juxtaposed each other and in this framework of competing elements, the dancers’ corporeal struggle illustrated not only process and protest, but also a high level of virtuosity. Furthermore, rather than demonstratively illustrating Marx’s text, I instead blended scenography and corporeality to choreograph a moment that embodied the conceptual and physical precarity that he discusses.


The final exposition developed a creative model through which the construction of the unsteady state condition was realised in processual and performative approaches. To achieve this I followed a choreodramaturgical approach and in doing so developed the explicitly political nature of the role, as previously defined in chapter 1.[24] Following what I initially saw as the failure of micro project 2.1, I explored improvisation as a means of unsteadying the normative processual and performative architecture of HHDT and my practice, recognising improvisation as a powerful processual component that I had not acknowledged until this point. To get to this point I reflected on micro project 2.1, not as a failure but as a revelation that placed a tight lens on my practice. In doing so, I could critique and subvert habitual, conventional modes of working, thinking and doing that sit not only inside the dominant HHDT model but also in my working processes as a practitioner, thereby exposing conventions and constraints. In practical terms, I achieved this by allowing the studio and performance framework to breathe and adapt, seeking other ways of creating movement(s) and in doing so challenged my fixity. I relied much more heavily on chance and improvisation than I had in my previous practice research phase. The improvised quality of this approach challenged the collective who engaged in the exposition process, and in many ways the exposition process then became a part of the process(ing) itself, as I observed new insights emerging from the dialogic relationship between the audience and the dancers.

The architecture of the final exposition (the design and construction of the creative process and the final exposition staging) deliberately guided the ensemble of participants towards momentarily reconsidering the prevailing social and institutional subjectification of HHDT artists. These outcomes accord with the notion of a Thirdspace practice for HHDT practitioners in that the spatial dynamic of the exposition, with its competing layers of construction, manifested a view, or perhaps created a momentary micro-model, that reflected the ‘spatiality of our lives’ (Soja in Borch, 2002: 113) through a faciliatory framework of physical interaction. Practical processual strategies and techniques such as processual accretion emerged from this final practice research phase enabling me to identify a reliable framework within which I am able to construct the unsteady state condition. I believe the unsteady state condition is a conceptually informed processual method that can be applied in the studio to explore the potentiality – a dialogic relationship between the corporeal, political and aesthetic – of HHDT artists. To achieve this I developed a practical working method that uses processual (task-based) accretion to create states of turbulence for the dancers, which place them in a state of precarity; I term these combined states the unsteady state condition. These collective corporeal states are housed within my overall creation of a Thirdspace conceptualisation of hip hop dance artists seeking to explore the potentiality of dance theatre in the UK. In summary, the practical creation of the unsteady state condition through processual accretion invokes turbulence and precarity for the dancers in the studio, which impacts their (im)mobility leading to a Thirdspace exploration of practice with hip hop dance artists in the space of UK dance theatre.

In both micro projects the unsteady state condition became an overarching practical component by re-imagining and disrupting the fixity of my studio practice and placing it in dialogue with Soja’s (1996) Thirdspace ideas. This allowed me to re-conceptualise my work with UK hip hop dance artists making theatre. In this way, the final exposition could provide a reliable framework that negotiated the unfolding and unpredictable moments of the unsteady state condition my practice was proposing. Furthermore, the academically informed spatial model offered an encounter between dancers and spectators, which encouraged each to question their perspectives within HHDT modalities. In doing so, I could shift some of Soja’s ideas from abstract critical theory to a live corporeality, in a process of re-imagining ‘an-Other’ (1996) way of moving and participating in performance-making processes for UK HHDT artists.

Through the final phase of research, with its problematic encounters in micro project 2.1, I realised the need to place a closer lens on myself, and my participation as a practitioner. As a practising artist I questioned and re-defined my position in the metaspace of HHDT. In my final practice stage, a refusal to perform the excess expected from myself, and the steadied form, to make it unsteady, became a locus of process(ing) and protest(ing). The exposition format, anchored through the proximal relationships of the cypher formation, facilitated a conceptual discourse through the choreographic construction of a physical exchange wherein ideas of collective responsibility were explored. Therefore, as a choreodramaturg working in and contributing to the metaspatial politics of HHDT, I found it necessary continually to develop my metaspatial knowledge and metaspatial conception in order to reimagine and develop my practice.

To arrive at such junctures I had ‘overtly engaged in conceptual debate’ (Nelson, 2013: 31), facilitating my transition from practitioner to practitioner–researcher. In doing so, I made it possible to explore a new processual approach that sought out ‘defamiliarisation’ (31) of my practice. Within a cycle of doing and undoing, the ‘affirmation’ (31) emerged that my practice could propose a processual structure that supported the iterative creation of the unsteady state condition, one that allowed the new to emerge during each new iteration. However, I realised that to accord with the experience of my practice research I must sit within the precarity of the unsteady state condition, learning to reside within deliberately invoked turbulence. It is an uncomfortable state and one that might, in its rejection of the legitimised formulaic model of HHDT, be seen and felt as negative and provocative. The practice research journey leading up to the final exposition certainly confronted me with these possibilities. Drawing on Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory (1997), Kowal, Siegmund and Martin suggest that ‘only by a negation that denies a realisation of hopes in the here and now may the work of art be political, its negativity being the source for both its critical potential and its utopian promise’ (2017: 4), and following the final exposition I confronted myself with the potential of that idea.



[1] I use precariousness and precarity to mean lacking in predictability, an unstable existence that lacks security. Precariousness is associated with conditions of precarisation distributed by governments. Political theorist Isabell Lorey argues, ‘Understanding precarisation as governmental makes it possible to problematise the complex interactions between an instrument of governing and the conditions of economic exploitation and modes of subjectivation, in their ambivalence between subjugation and empowerment’ (2015: 13). Cultural anthropologists Shaw and Byler write, ‘Understanding life as precarious suggests that social existence itself depends on interdependency through the care of others. The bodies and affective labor of other humans and nonhumans sustain our survival. We also come to depend on institutionalised forms of recognition, infrastructure that shapes our place in the world. When these systems of care and support are fragmented by the uneven impacts of capitalism and global forms of racism and exploitation, precarity emerges as an acute expression of precariousness. Precarity is thus fundamentally concerned with politics. It describes the way that the precariousness of life is exploited, how the lives of underemployed minorities, their struggles and suffering, are rendered abject and meaningless’ (Shaw and Byler, 2016).

[2] As opposed to apost-war UK environment when jobs, education, housing and welfarism were promoted and developed, denoting a wider sense of societal stability: a state of security that many people still consider redeemable and strive for with little success and in doing so become governed by a state of insecurity. Professors of theatre and performance arts Nicholas Ridout and Rebecca Schneider argue that ‘precarity is life lived in relation to a future that cannot be propped securely upon the past. Precarity undoes a linear streamline of temporal progression and challenges ‘progress’ and ‘development’ narratives on all levels’ (Ridout and Schneider, 2012: 5).Professor of English Lauren Berlant writes, ‘At root, precarity is a condition of dependency – as a legal term, precarious describes the situation wherein your tenancy on your land is in someone else’s hands’ (Berlant, 2011: 192).

[3] The term ‘accretion’ is often used in geological contexts to define a process of layers building on each other over time. ‘Accretion is the natural process of growth, slow addition of soil material, such as clay, silt, sand, or gravel, to land by deposition through the operation of natural causes. The land is added by the gradual or imperceptible accumulation of such material to a bank or a shore’ (Anand, 2006).

[4] Political theorist Isabell Lorey notes that ‘the liberal mode of governing produces precarities as economic, social and legal relations of inequality through systematic categorisations and hierarchisations according to “body” and “culture”’ (2015: 37). ‘Precariousness relates not to life itself, but rather to the conditions of its existence’ (2015: 19).

[5] The work of Newson, the artistic director of DV8, ‘inherently questions the traditional aesthetics and forms which pervade both modern and classical dance, and attempts to push beyond the values they reflect to enable discussion of wider and more complex issues’ (DV8, 2018).

[6] The role of the choreodramaturg carries an explicit political resonance (as described in chapter 1).

[7] Score:

Stage 1: Stand and look out of the studio window down into the open car park below and fix your gaze on one car. Imagine that your young daughter is looking out of the back window while being driven away and it will be the last time you will ever see her.

Stage 2: Keeping your back towards me, create an external–internal exchange and when you are ready begin to move in any way you feel. BUT you must maintain the literal visual focus on the car which contains your daughter.

[8] This exercise is standard fare for actors, but proved challenging for this dancer when the possibility of movement was not initially available and he was asked to be mobile in his imagination only.

[9] I use ‘intensity’ to signify something deeply felt in an emotional sense, while I use ‘density’ to refer to something that resides beneath the surface level of movement and in doing so becomes the nexus of movement.

[10] Haraway’s notion of staying with the trouble, while emerging from a new materialist ecocritique of environmental issues, proves pertinent to this research inquiry. Haraway warns against quick fix solutions to specific problems and advises us to stay with particular issues and work through, work with and dwell in the complexities that certain problematic situations present, as opposed to rushing towards an imagined, utopian future. The notion of staying with the trouble applied in this research derives from and illustrates the complexities of the institutional, economic and artistic HHDT metaspace concerns as I perceive them, while simultaneously protesting against such a metaspace construction. The strategy of labour withdrawal, explored in micro project 2.2 and the final exposition, is one means by which I practically explored Haraway’s conceptual arguments within the space of the dance studio.

[11] ‘Thinking trialectically is a necessary part of understanding Thirdspace as a limitless composition of lifeworlds that are radically open and openly radicalisable; that are all-inclusive and transdisciplinary in scope yet politically focused and susceptible to strategic choice; that are never completely knowable but whose knowledge none the less guides our search for emancipatory change and freedom from domination. Trialectical thinking […] is disorderly, unruly, constantly evolving, unfixed, never presentable in permanent constructions’ (Soja, 1996: 70).

[12] ‘Habitus is neither a result of free will, nor determined by structures, but created by a kind of interplay between the two over time: dispositions that are both shaped by past events and structures, and that shape current practices and structures and also, importantly, that condition our very perceptions of these’ (Bourdieu, 1984: 170).

[13] William Givens unpicks the term accretion in relation to a Life magazine article (23 August 1943), which proclaimed, ‘after sixteen years of evolution and accretion, the Lindy Hop has become Americas national dance’ (Givens, 2017: 744). Givens argues that the evolution and accretion relate to a form of legitimisation and grafting on of whiteness that could ‘theoretically legitimise it to an American consumer base’ (2017: 744).

[14] Lefebvre, who was great influence on Soja’s thinking, argued ‘il v a toujours l’ Autre’, there is always an-Other term. With Autre/Other capitalised to emphasise its critical importance’ (Soja, 1996: 7).

[15] Taken from a compilation of songs entitled They Will Kill You if You Cry (2017) recorded by Khmer Rouge Survivors. To listen to the track follow link in e-submission.

[16] Ensemble Klang, ‘Nocturne for BJM’, from the album Music at the Edge of Collapse.

[17] ‘Dense’ refers to the often oblique and inaccessible language used in academic writing.

[18] In the same article Bennhold wrote: ‘Today, the face of London is the Muslim son of a bus driver. Sadiq Khan, the city’s directly elected mayor, in many ways represents how the city sees itself: multicultural, liberal and socially mobile. But much local governing authority is devolved to the councils that run London’s 32 boroughs, which can look very different from that.Of the Kensington council’s 50 members, 46 are white and 37 are Conservatives. The cabinet, led by Ms. Campbell, is entirely white. One of her fellow councillors is Lady Catherine Faulks. Another is Feilding-Mellen, the stepson of the Earl of Wemyss and March. Another is Prof. Sir Anthony Coates, known locally as a man of letters – the letters being those he lists after his name to highlight his credentials’ (Bennhold, 2017).

[19] For examples follow the links in e-submission to see music videos by: Usher – My Way (2009); Beyoncé – Formation (2016); Dance Challenge: choreographer Brian Esperon’s response to the ‘lemon dance challenge’ that was issued by NERD after the success of their single; BBC Young Dancer: Darren Hamilton and Steven Blake dance to ‘Feel like that’ by Dogg Master for the BBC Young Dancer 2017 Street Dance Final.

[20] Discussed in detail in chapter 2.

[21] For a detailed discussion of Gotman’s (2015) reading of Walter Benjamin’s (1999) concept of a dialectics at a standstill see chapter 2.

[22] Readers interested in dance improvisation more broadly might refer Midgelow (2019).

[23] Personal communication (Stannage, 2018).

[24] 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 brings the outside world into the space, questioning how the institution moves and defines movement.