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Title: Towards embodiology : modelling relations between West African performance practices, contemporary dance improvisation and 'seselelame'
Author: Wray, S.
ISNI:       0000 0004 6062 1351
Awarding Body: University of Surrey
Current Institution: University of Surrey
Date of Award: 2017
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This inquiry concerns dance improvisation as a mode of performance demonstrated in West African cultures, raising questions concerning the knowledge, skills and techniques performers display in related dance and drumming practices. Improvisation in West African contexts resists contemporary dance practice’s universalising concepts; this investigation is undertaken to allow a neo-African perspective of improvisation to emerge and take its place within dance studies. I thus examine practices of several ethnic groups which consistently reveal uses of six component-principles: Dynamic Rhythmic, Fractal Code, Inner Sensing and Balance, Play and Decision Making, Collaborative Competition and Audience Proxemics. Combined to form a hypothetical model of improvisation-asperformance practice, I interrogate this group of aesthetic concepts and their interrelations using Practice as Research (PaR) and autoethnographic methods. A multi-phased and multimodal investigation ensues, combining textual and video analysis, studio workshops in the USA and UK and fieldwork in Ghana, leading to the generation of new improvisation methods that employ and demonstrate West African knowledge. Dissecting rhythmic acuity builds performers’ capacities to generate and sustain improvised performance. An examination of the relationship between dance and music and an emergent theory of culturally specific sensory knowledge - seselelame - are both central to developing a fuller understanding of this neo-African aesthetic. I apply a decolonising filter throughout this research, clearing a space for performers’ expertise, weaving a range of critical positions to emphasise the need for a more contemporary and inclusive analysis of non-Western approaches to improvisation–as-performance. Thus, within intercultural contexts I observe, participate, create, collaborate, teach, train and perform: all of which serve to move toward a new field of knowledge, “Embodiology”. This West African-informed theory of improvisation-as-performance contains an analytical tool useful to evaluate improvisation in dance and other contexts. Research modes intersect analytically throughout the 70:30 ratio split between the written submission and documented practical work.
Supervisor: Lavender, A. M. ; Sörgel, S. Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Dance Improvisation ; autoethnography ; West African performance practices ; new praxis