Decolonization as a choreographic practice or Choreography making as a decolonizing process: Transitory outcomes of an artistic residency

Re (ad) – flexion examples. Photos Georgia Kapodistria

The text is not answering any questions. It is not performative and it will not satisfy any academic structures. It is somewhere in between and exactly were it should be. The need of manifesting and sharing thoughts comes from a wish to create visibility around my ongoing research, in the hope of creating some kind of dialogue and exchange.

The actual sharing of what the research is all about begins with looking back to a project that was initiated in 2018, which focused on examining possibilities on how to decolonize dance education within schooling. Decolonization is according to dictionaries the process that colonized lands go through towards becoming independent, after the colonizing power leaves the area. The project with the name ‘almost the same, but not white’ created a frame in which the notion of decolonization was sat next to my facilitative practice, to acknowledge and make an effort in changing colonizing tendencies, which the role of the teacher (the dance teacher) can imply. For the sake of my inquiry the notion of decolonization was formed to describe the effort and process of acknowledging and changing the colonizing tendencies that imply domination through appropriating a domain or situation for one’s own use.

The findings from the ‘almost the same, but not white’ research project, act as starting points for the exploration that is described in the following pages. My current research starts here and it starts with a problem:

Graph by Georgia Kapodistria

A similar graph as the one you see above appeared in the beginning of the ‘almost the same, but not white’ research period.  The simplicity and innocence of the shapes interlacing and overlapping each other has been slowly fading away and now, in the beginning of this research period, I am almost scared to face the self in the middle. Placing the individual in the center confirms the white structures that frame not only the work, but also the thinking just as much. Having a research ecosystem happening around ‘me’ is at this point a ‘blind’ spot I am unable to slip, which constitutes once again the beginning of yet another artistic research projec.

I hope that by now there are some keywords to hold on to.

Artistic research, Decolonization, Dance Practitioner

During the next paragraphs I will try to give an inside in to the research work of the past weeks, at times in relation to the outcomes of the ‘almost the same, but not white’ project. I use the problem (as presented in the above-shown graph) to create a structure for my writing in which you, together with me, can think / re- think around and about the political trajectories of choreographic work. We do not need to read / see / hear back to colonial times to attend the notion of decolonization and its practice, but can attend it in present time through facing the neo-liberalistic structures of our every day life (in Denmark, 2019).

‘It is impossible to think about the development of capitalism without thinking about its co-development with colonialism’ (Lepecki, 2016:p.3)

Choreography making can not only be political, but also relate to colonial discourses that are strongly connected with modern society and the mainstream political image.

Context: The frame, in which the research is realized, is my participation in the Åbent Rum residency program, an Åben Dans Theatre initiative. During the seasons 2019/2020 I have the possibility to examine my research inquiry during in- and off- studio working periods, without an external expectation of producing a specific outcome. The text though you have on your screen/paper, could imagine a written manifestation, hence a product, of my first three-week confrontation with the inquiry.

Artistic Research: The inquiry that at this point constitutes the core of the research, could look like this: What might a choreographic practice that focuses on the notion of decolonization look like?

Methodology: The methodological structure was set to embrace and touch upon the different facades I include in my work as a dance practitioner. Three headings appear on the wall:

The dancing artist              The emancipated student           Decolonizing the mind

Through visiting and revisiting, while insisting on including all of them in each working day, new and old questions rise to the surface. These are the questions I wish to share, next to significant thoughts that changed the course of the flow.

The dancing artist uses a physical practice as a compass to navigate through the questioning. The physical practice consisted of any continuous physical activity that produces fire and water. It was yoga, interval training, ‘just’ dance or the revisiting of ‘The beginning practice’, which was assembled during the ‘almost the same, but not white’ research period.

The practice, which I call ‘The Beginning practice’,is an individual physical exploration of 90min using video recording and writing. It was used to decolonize the professional dancing body from previous teachers, practices and techniques, and functions as a journey towards the impossible task of finding the unbiased, uninfluenced movement quality. 

In an attempt to sidestep the whiteness of this practice, in which ‘me’ and my movement is central to the exploration, I tried to acknowledge and chose, instead of acknowledge and change, practices and patterns I encountered as a student. By doing that I reassembled a practice, which can be shared with others, and focuses on how a student (in this case me) ‘will dance with his master’s ghosts’ (Lepecki, 2005:p.27).

The emancipated student (see Ranciére, Jacque (1991): The ignorant schoolmaster translated by Kristin Ross, Stanford University Press, Stanford California) approaches the learning of new disciplines with help from tools that are available and without seeking for a master. Practicing emancipated learning erases structural power binaries and embraces ignorance. Learning, for example, how to dance ‘Sousta’ (Cyprus folkdance) with the use of You-tube videos, intrigued my already present interest in exploring the decolonization processes apparent in folkdance traditions of colonized peoples. 

A superficial overview of what the folkdance landscape in Cyprus looks like, reveals gender structures that fall under the (de)colonization radar. Women appear shy, portray moral decency and enjoy subtle dancing in limited space, whereas men take on a competitive attitude before they start a lively performance with high jumps, deep pliés and loud clapping. Decolonization processes are not exclusively political. They can be social, racial, gender specific.

The thoughts are noted, but left aside for the moment.

Decolonizing the Mind (see wa Thiong’o, Ngūgí (1986) Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in  African Litterature) includes all the above and a little bit more. It implies actions that help contextualize my thoughts when connecting the notion of decolonization with a choreographic practice. The actions / activities I worked around were reading, re(ad)-flexing and mapping the working space.

Mapping the working space has as a purpose to find the center, by advising the repetitive movement patterns in space during working, and not by advising the physical center of the room. After being busy with an activity / exploration / exercise at a certain place in space, I would mark it with tape and insist to keep that spot exclusive for that specific activity. The mapping hopes to reveal unconscious placement patterns that support specific tendencies and structures, which can be connected to colonial vocabulary (see Picture 1) and support power binaries based on the center and the margin.

Picture 1: The spatial vocabulary of colonialism (Tuhiwai-Smith, 2012: p. 55

By the end of the working period the room imagined a very well structured, almost stringent working environment. (see Picture 2) My need of controlling and forming the room is of course reassuring my tendency of inhabiting an authoritarian role, but I accepted the necessity of taking this road at this point of the research. Luckily my choreographic impulse to govern was shaken and interrupted, when a carefully set up paper wall resisted the choreography and fell down over night (probably because of the heat). (see Picture 3)

Picture 2
Picture 3: ‘some people want to run things, other things just want to run’ (Harney and Moten 2013: p. 51) Photos Georgia Kapodistria

Not only the mapping of the space but also the act of choreographing in general can be seen as ‘art of command’ (William Forsythe in Lepecki 2016: p.40). There are and have been several examples of efforts to escape the colonial tendencies of choreographing, but the self gets always caught in the middle, as the process is easier said than done. Attempts of decolonizing the choreographer’s role could look like: using chance procedures, move as or being moved by a thing, displacing the center, participatory work, undoing the hierarchy of the senses…

These practices became familiar to me through the reading of chosen literature:

Ranciére, Jacque (1991): The ignorant schoolmaster translated by Kristin Ross, Stanford University Press, Stanford California

Bhabha, Homi K. (1984): ‘Of Mimicry and Man: The ambivalence of colonial discourse’ in October Vol. 28, Discipleship: A special Issue on Phychoanalysis (Spring 1984) Published by The MIT Press

Tuhiwai-Smith, Linda (2012): Decolonizing methodologies: Research and Indigineous Peoples Zed Books Ltd, London

Lepecki, André (2016): Singularities: Dance in the age of Performance, Routledge, London/New York

Harney, Stefano and Moten, Fred (2013): The undercommons: Fugitive planning & Black study Minor compositions, Wivenhoe / New York / Port Watson

Pace, Michelle and Sen, Somdeep (2019): The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank: The theatrics of woeful statecraft,  Routledge, London/New York

Event though reading as a practice produces incredible amounts of ‘movement’, I tried to incorporate my limps and torso more excessively into the reading by practicing what I called re(ad)-flexion. The reading happens while the ankle between upper and lower body is in flexion. This allows for the stretch of certain muscle groups. I invite you to find your own comfortable stretching and reading positions or try out some of the positions that made sense to me (Picture 4).

Learning / Outcome: To round up I wish to underline the particularity of this text and let it be what it is, without conclusions and statements. It is a sum up of thoughts, written down as a source of questions, problems and highlights, which are to be dealt with by anyone with similar interests. The researching around the connection of the notion of decolonization with a choreographic practice has just been initiated, and a follow up of different events is in the horizon. I will do my best to share out, but please be welcome to contact me with in- or out-put. (by email:

Thank you for reading!

Georgia Kapodistria (CY/DE) arbejder som professionel danser, koreograf og danseformidler i København. Hendes professionelle og kunstneriske rejse startede i Tyskland med optagelsen på Folkwang Universitet der Künste i Essen, hvor hun gennemførte en bachelor uddannelse i dans (2009-2013). Efter tre års freelance arbejde fortsætter hun sin akademiske dannelse på Den Danske Scenekunstskole, hvor hun tog overbygnings studiet i Danseformidling (2016-2018). I sine nuværende projekter, om det er som performer, formidler eller koreograf, lægger hun meget vægt på at finde grænserne mellem de roller og arbejde ud over disse. Hun søger eller skaber projekter, der giver muligheden for at udforske grænselandet mellem performance og formidling.