Choreographing postcolonial identities in Britain: Cultural policies and the politics of performance, 1983-2008




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De Montfort University


Thesis or dissertation

Peer reviewed


This thesis examines the way in which dance work produced by postcolonial dance artists is often misread and exoticised by critics, funders and audiences. Yet the works produced have a disruptive effect and are products and clear indications of the sometimes oppressive processes that create cultural representation and identities. These postcolonial dance artists also have to contend with problematic umbrella terms such as ‘Black’ and ‘South Asian’ which are not fully descriptive of their dance practice and have the effect of stereotyping the work produced. The thesis investigates the artists Mavin Khoo, Shobana Jeyasingh, Akram Khan, Bode Lawal, Robert Hylton and Phoenix Dance Company who have created works that have asserted their individual agency through the use of particular cultural dance practices and have engaged in concepts such as classicism, modernism and postmodernism in order to establish a place within the British dance canon. Choreographic work produced by artists such as Khoo and Hylton have ‘educated’ audiences about the dance traditions that have been ‘passed down’ to them, whilst artists and companies like Phoenix have worked within a primarily Western medium, yet acknowledging that their work is informed by their distinctive African, African-Caribbean and Indian identities also.

Although the work produced by these artists is often viewed from a white and Eurocentric perspective and exoticised to fit with conventional notions of ‘Indianness’ and ‘Blackness’, this thesis demonstrates that through the use of methodologies from cultural theory/policy, postcolonial theory and dance studies it is possible to reveal and illuminate meanings in the choreography and performances of postcolonial artists, and open up the dialogue that their works initiate in a multicultural and globalised context.



Postcolonial identity, choreography, cultural policy



Research Institute