A Research Sabbatical – Henry Daniel

BMVP 2016-17 henry daniel

Henry Daniel, IAS Benjamin Meaker Visiting Fellow, writes….

The IAS Benjamin Meaker Visiting Fellowship provided me with a unique opportunity to do initial fieldwork for my new research project Contemporary Nomads. The invitation also allowed me to guest teach on two different courses in the Department of Theatre (Devised Performance, and Choreography for Theatre) as well as on a new Innovation program with a number of four-year courses that lead to a Masters qualification. The structure of this degree allows students to spend two thirds of their time in the first two years in their subject discipline, and one third on innovation work. The balance would then change in later years where they would spend more time preparing for the launch of their own venture on graduation. The accent on the program was on Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Collaboration. The combination of these teaching opportunities and my research interests led to a host of connections being made with researchers in as well as outside the University, which in turn opened up further directions for Contemporary Nomads.

Research presentations at Coventry University’s C-DaRE Seminar Series in Dance, Brunel University’s “Precarity & the Politics of Art: Performative and Critical Empowerment after Democracy” Seminar Series, London Southbank University Research Seminar Series, Bristol Theatre Department’s Theatre Research Colloquium, and the Winter IASIS Salon on Diversity, all provided valuable opportunities to present as well as discuss this new research project with different audiences.

An event that occurred prior to my visit (my host gave notice a month before I arrived), also inadvertently proved to be quite fortuitous. This meant that I was mostly on my own trying to do fieldwork on the cultural dynamics of a city I knew only marginally. Although I had done a PhD many years ago at Bristol University, I had never lived in the city. The IAS Fellowship therefore gave me the opportunity to discover the city of Bristol and its environs from quite a different perspective.

A key aspect of this Professorship was the opportunity to explore future collaborative connections with colleagues within the University as a whole. The members of the Migration Research Forum, The Brigstow Institute, and others on the Productions Margins Research Project were especially helpful in giving me a sense of how that could be accomplished. Bristol, like all of Britain, had only just begun to understand the implications of Brexit while dealing with its own complex migration problem. Given the city’s historic role in the cross-Atlantic trading of bodies and industrial goods, and its example as a city that is now home to a range of immigrants, I felt that I had wandered into an ideal situation that would allow me to develop a unique case study.

As a choreographer and Performance Studies scholar, I was interested in linking movement as a fundamental premise of human behavior to that of migration. Why people move, where they move to, and what happens after these movements were questions that I felt were equally important to those working in law, policy studies, human rights, immigration, the economy, business, industry, and yes, dance as an art form. I also felt that situating the question of human movement from the micro to the macro, from the personal movements of individuals to the movement of large groups of people on a trans-national geographic scale could produce some very good results. Several conversations with colleagues from the Migration Research Forum, The Bristow Group, the Productions Margins Research Project, and numerous others I met from local communities – from the Jamaican barber shop in Easton to the opening of the Somali Festival at the M-Shed during Bristol’s Black History Month, and from the ACTA community-based theatre group in Bedminister to a number of local interests working to save the local Dance Centre at the old Jacobs Wells Bath convinced me that I was onto something that needed more time to properly explore.

A further opportunity presented itself when I was asked to mount a short performance work of my own with undergraduate students. I decided to use the framework of a previous work I mounted in Canada and feature students in the Theatre Department performing live. The intention here was to envisage how some of the research could possibly be presented in future. Two performances at the Wickham Theatre on campus allowed colleagues and friends to see the potential of such an approach. The good news is that colleagues I met at Bristol University and I are now in the process of working out how this type of work can be further developed. We are looking at a Leverhulme Visiting Professorship as a potential funding source. If this materializes, I would say that the IAS Benjamin Meaker Visiting Fellowship scheme has done a tremendous job in facilitating an important exchange.

My sincere thanks goes out to all those at IAS, to those at the Productive Margins Research Project, to my hosts at the Department of Theatre and especially to Angela Piccini in the Department of Film and TV, who suggested this route in the first instance, and who has been instrumental throughout in setting up connections and making suggestions on how to pursue them. Finally, as a thank you to all those who assisted in the production of Encounters Bristol, the performance/installation that was premiered on December 14-15 2016 at the Wickham Theatre. I look forward to visiting Bristol again.

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