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Subversive movement: Destabilising genre expectations and audience responses using musical theatre dance

Sears, Ellin (2019) Subversive movement: Destabilising genre expectations and audience responses using musical theatre dance. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Musical theatre dance, also known as show dance, is a widely accepted convention of the musical theatre genre. Despite its central role in musical theatre, historically show dance has been marginalised in critical theory and analysis. The development of the integrated musical in the mid-twentieth century has aided in changing critical dialogues surrounding show dance. However, the theoretical frameworks that have developed out of the integrated tradition are imprecise and ill-equipped to deal with all permutations of the modern musical and the ways in which dance functions within them. Scott McMillin’s theories of doubled time and the cohesive musical, and Millie Taylor’s discussions of loss and excess challenge the argument that song and dance should always aim to be integrated into the narrative. By considering the potentially disjunctive or disruptive functions of song and dance, these analyses consider the varied theatrical effects that might be created for an audience engaging with the musical form. My research uses a multi-modal approach, drawing insights from theories of audience reception, performance, genre, semiotics and culture, to interrogate the interplay of theory and praxis in the musical form, and particularly the way show dance can function to subvert audience expectations in exploring challenging themes and narratives. The exegesis traces my research journey and concludes in the documentation of my new creative artefact; an original musical inspired by George Orwell’s dystopian classic, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Co-developed with lyricist and fellow researcher Sarah Courtis, the choreography and movement in 2084: A Musical was crafted as a platform to engage with audience responses to musical theatre dance, which specifically works to illustrate themes of subjugation, conflict, and control. Further, my analysis of 2084 considers the relationship between audience pleasure and entertainment, expectations regarding genre and performance, the important visual role of dance within the stage musical, and how juxtaposition can be used as a powerful dramatic tool, creating complex and dynamic performance texts for an audience.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Creative Media, Arts and Design
Supervisor(s): De Reuck, Jennifer and Moody, David
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