In this thesis I describe a choreographic praxis that responds to the sociocultural, historical and political environment in which HHDT has emerged in the UK, using a practice research methodology. By conceptualising a complex and politicised metaspace I challenge the normative processual and performative modes that currently dominate HHDT and, in doing so, bring to the field a new way of thinking about and making work with hip hop dance artists in the space of UK dance theatre. The research has enabled me to explore the hybrid role of the choreodramaturg as an agent of change, a politicised dramaturg who choreographs using multiple dialogic tasks, which bring the politics of the outside world into the space. I have been able to address the questions I set at the outset of my research and have reconceptualised my position as a practitioner working with hip hop dance artists in the space of UK dance theatre.
The thesis presents a practitioner’s perspective and the iterative cycle demonstrated throughout the research links studio practice, extensive artist interviews and reflective thinking and writing. In my thesis I investigate three distinct processual and performance phases – the large-scale BLOCK project, the micro projects and the exposition event – by exploring practice and theory. The intention of describing these projects was to examine how and why HHDT moves as it does and how it might move in a newly imagined choreographic environment. Applying a conceptual lens to the discussion of the three studio projects, I consider a transition whereby choreographic thinking extends beyond the walls of the studio and performance space to reimagine choreographic practice.
Through intimate dialogue between practice and theory, I investigate and demonstrate the supervisory structures that run through HHDT as corporeal and aesthetic themes. I unpick the structure of the UK arts funding environment to highlight influential and dialogic relationships between processes of gentrification and choreographic outputs in HHDT. Furthermore, using practice as a primary tool, I argue that legitimised pathways limit the possibility for HHDT artists to step outside the current formulaic model of movement and performance production for HHDT practices.
The development of metaspatial thinking as a conceptual lens is useful in HHDT because it proposes a broad, mobile and nuanced framework within which choreography can be practised and positioned. By applying the metaspace to HHDT I have been able to define and critique HHDT practice in the UK, a context in which hip hop dance is under-researched.To employ the notion of metaspace is to consider how ‘choreopolicing’ operates in the guise of institutional supervision, where funding, mentorships, culture industry imperatives and artistic curation influence choreographic outputs (Lepecki, 2013). Metaspatial thinking is a concept that extends beyond the arena of HHDT, proposing a useful lens through which to consider how sociocultural, political and historical themes resonate in dance in general. It argues for a consideration of the spatiality of practice beyond the walls of the studio or performance site to ask why, how, when and where dance takes place, and who is granted access to it and under what conditions.
By describing, and ultimately protesting, the HHDT metaspace, the thesis proposes a dialogic encounter between developing conceptual metaspatial knowledge and the practical development of the unsteady state condition in studio-based practice and resulting performance outcomes. The architect of the unsteady state condition in this process is defined as the choreodramaturg, a role that is potentially productive for both choreographic and dramaturgical practice beyond the field of HHDT. The explicitly politicised praxis of the choreodramaturg emanates from an engaged and ongoing reflection on the choreographic nature of the metaspace and how its historico-temporal, sociocultural, political and economic manoeuvrings filter down to impact on the movement(s) of hip hop dance artists in the space of UK dance theatre. Responding to the politicised metaspace, the choreodramaturg develops and introduces themes and competing task-based layers of engagement to dancers, defined as processual accretion. This new term captures the complexity of the studio process, where an interplay between metaspatial thinking and layers of movement, text, scenography and subject matter takes place. The constant jostling for primacy between these dialogic elements leads to the construction of the unsteady state condition. The research defines a new processual and performative approach for working with hip hop dance artists in the space of UK dance theatre and, in doing so, has the potential to impact on the choreography, staging and performance practices of HHDT.
The thesis offers rich potential for future research and could be developed to encompass a broader critique of the culture industry’s close relationship with gentrification and how culture is being made integral to urban development, harnessed as it is to complex processes of financialisation. It is by no means new to apply a choreographic lens to the wider field of sociocultural and political studies (Desmond, 1997; Lepecki, 2013, 2015; Martin, 1998), but by following a methodological approach that transcribes theory into practice and practice into theory, this research holds the potential for future development. For example, the metaspatial model introduces a highly complex concept, the full potential of which I will continue to engage with beyond the realms of this thesis, and which other practitioners and theorists across dance genres could also employ. The same latent potential is housed within the processual methods my practice research has allowed me to discover; I argue that it is necessarily a practice in flux and therefore the practice research must remain in motion and could be developed by practitioners across genres. My praxis will continue to engage with and develop the idea of the choreographic lens extending beyond the physical movements of a dancer. Other dance practitioners might also develop the conceptual and practical framework that has emerged from the practice research of this thesis.
The idea of gentrification’s intimate and ongoing relationship with the cultural industry and the shifts it prescribes contributes to a cross-disciplinary discourse and might also be useful to scholars, practitioners and activists in related fields of human geography, cultural theory and social activism. This research aspires to disrupt practices, conventions and norms and in doing so provokes new modes of engaging with the politics of choreographic practice. It argues for a constant and vigilant questioning of the spaces in which we create work, proposing that multiple and shifting factors shape and shift these sites, impacting on the way dance moves. The research illustrates the potential for dance research praxis to explore and challenge complex metaspatial relationships and promotes a more democratic and empowered approach to dance making, performing and ultimately viewing.