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Keynote speakers

Professor Helen Gilbert

Department of Drama and Theatre Studies
Centre for International Theatre and Performance Research
Royal Holloway, University of London


Professor Helen Gilbert

Helen Gilbert’s main academic interest lies in the theatre of marginalised cultures. Over the last two decades, her research has spanned texts and performances drawn from diverse parts of the world, with special emphasis on contemporary theatre in Australasia, Canada and the Caribbean. Thematically, her work concentrates on issues relating to race and representation, indigeneity, cultural identity, nationalism, democracy and the politics and aesthetics of cross-cultural engagement. Her most recent major research project, Performance and Cosmopolitics, co-authored with Dr. Jacqueline Lo, investigated the influences of Aboriginal and Asian theatre practices in Australasia, examining aesthetic, commercial, political and ethical dimensions of their incorporation within regional cultures. In 2006–2008, Professor Gilbert headed a transnational on performance and asylum, and she continues to research in the related field of performative engagements with terrorism. She is currently leading a five-year, multi-national, team-based project on ‘Indigeneity and Performance’, which is funded by the European Research Council. It takes an interdisciplinary approach to indigenous performance across the Americas, the Pacific and South Africa. Points of focus include global justice, belonging, commodity culture, heritage and reconciliation.

Professor Gilbert directs Royal Holloway’s Centre for International Theatre and Performance Research and co-convenes her university’s cross-faculty Postcolonial Research Group. She is currently on a fellowship at the Centre for Interweaving Performance Cultures at Freie University in Berlin.

Selected publications:

Gilbert, Helen, Robert Cribb and Helen Tiffin. Wild Man from Borneo: A Cultural History of the Orangutan. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press. (Forthcoming 2011/12).

Gilbert, Helen & Jacqueline Lo. Performance and Cosmopolitics: Cross-Cultural Transactions in Australasia. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

Gilbert, Helen. Sightlines: Race, Gender and Nation in Contemporary Australian Theatre. Ann Arbor: Michigan University Press, 1998.

Gilbert, Helen, and Joanne Tompkins. Post-Colonial Drama. London and New York: Routledge, 1996.

Professor Rachel Fensham

Department of Dance, Film and Theatre
University of Surrey


Professor Rachel Fensham

Professor Rachel Fensham has been a Professor of Dance and Theatre Studies at the University of Surrey since 2006, and prior to that worked at Monash University in the Department of Drama and Theatre Studies. In different contexts, she has worked as a writer, scholar, performer, arts administrator and cultural policy analyst in various fields of dance, theatre and performance studies. 

Her research extends from the theoretical to the practical, and is sustained by an active engagement with the history and politics of representation, with a particular focus on the significance of corporeality in performance. 

Professor Fensham is currently Principal Investigator for the AHRC-funded research project, Digital Dance Archives, which is producing a cross-collection archive searchable via visual technologies. She has just completed another project called Pioneer Women: British Modern Dancers, 1900s to 1930s, working with Professor Alexandra Carter on early twentieth century dance research with a forthcoming book Dancing Naturally (Palgrave, 2011).  With Australian Research Council funding in 2005, Professor Fensham completed primary research on the transnational and postcolonial histories of recent Australian choreography which led to a special edition of Brolga: The journal of Australian Dance (December 2009), a pair of crosscultural dance workshops in 2006 and 2008, a mini-conference called Choreographies of Identity and Difference (2006), and a current book project called Bodylands.

Professor Fensham was responsible for leading the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise for the Department of Dance Film and Theatre Studies at Surrey, recognised for its world-leading research in postcolonial performance, popular dance and Renaissance studies. As Head of Deparment, and Chair of the Cultural Engagement Strategy, she  contributed to the expansion of performing arts provision with the development of new studio facilities and the establishment of a performing arts centre, as well as facilitating the merger between the Guildford School of Acting and the University for vocational arts training. 

In 2003, Professor Fensham was invited as Visiting Professor at the Department of Dance History and Theory at the University of California Riverside and in 2005 collaborated with artist Jude Walton on project Eudemonia investigating global trade cultures in Cambodia, Singapore, and Hong Kong. 

Selected publications:

Fensham, Rachel. Dancing Naturally: nature, neo-classicism and modernity in early twentieth century dance. Basingstoke: Palgrave, forthcoming 2011.

Fensham, Rachel. To Watch Theatre: on genre and corporeality. Brussels: Peter Lang, 2009.

Fensham, Rachel, with Denise Varney. The Dolls' Revolution: Australian Theatre and Cultural Imagination. Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2005.

Fensham, Rachel. ‘Not Walking Falling: Performing Intimate Immensity’, eds. Barbara Holloway and Jennifer Rutherford, Halfway Houses: The Poetics of Australian Space, University of Western Australia Press, 2010: 191-208.

Fensham, Rachel. ‘Operating Theatres: Body-bits and a Post-apartheid Aesthetics’, in Maaike Bleeker (ed.) Anatomy Live: Performance and the Operating Theatre. Amsterdam University Press,  2008: 251-261.

Ong Keng Sen

Artistic Director TheatreWorks


Ong Keng Sen

A graduate from the Faculty of Law at the National University of Singapore, Ong Keng Sen went on to study intercultural performance with the Performance Studies Department at Tisch Schools of the Arts, New York University. A Fulbright Scholar, Keng Sen was instrumental in starting the theatre studies course in the National University of Singapore. He has taught all over the world in places such as the New York University Asian Pacific and American Studies Programme/Institute and Dasarts in Amsterdam, where he was block mentor in Spring 2004. In addition, he serves on the International Council of The Asia Society of New York and has been the recipient of fellowships from the Japan Foundation, British Council, German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) in Berlin, and the Asian Cultural Council (New York).

Keng Sen has been and still is an instrumental innovator and contributor to the evolution of an Asian identity and aesthetic for contemporary performance in the 21st century. In 1994, Keng Sen conceived The Flying Circus Project (FCP), a transnational performance laboratory that brought together traditional and contemporary Asian artists from the fields of theatre, music, dance, video, visual arts, documentary film and ritual. This has expanded to a meeting of Asian, European, American and Arab artists exploring individual creative strategies in contemporary art, cultural negotiation and the politics of interculturalism. In 1999, Keng Sen founded a new network for Asian artists to dialogue and engage with each other known as the Arts Network Asia (ANA).

As a theatre director, Keng Sen has directed many wonderful productions, often in collaboration with international artists, both traditional and contemporary. He is especially well known for his Asian Shakespeare Trilogy including, Lear which premiered in Tokyo in 1997; Desdemona which premiered in Adelaide in 2000; and Search:Hamlet, created as a site specific production for Kronburg Castle, Denmark, 2002. He is also known for his documentary performances such as The Continuum: Beyond the Killing Fields first premiering in 2001 and which was recently shown at the Victoria Arts Centre in 2010, and Sandakan Threnody which premiered at Melbourne International Arts Festival in 2004. His works have been presented at the Lincoln Center New York; Tanzquartier Vienna; Goteborg Dance and Theatre Festival; Oslo Dansenshus; Zurich Theater Spektakel; Paris Center National de la Danse; Roma Europa Festival. Keng Sen’s most recent work Hotel Europa recently opened at The Republique, in Copenhagen, Denmark.

As a curator, Keng Sen is known for his inter-disciplinary approaches. He conceived and directed In-Transit, for the House of World Cultures, Berlin, programming it for two years 2002 and 2003. Keng Sen also curated the Insomnia@ICA season of Southeast Asian cutting edge young visual artists and film-makers for London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, as well as Spaces and Shadows, a programme on contemporary South East Asian art and urban societies, in the House of World Cultures in Berlin. Ong’s Flying Circus Project (Special Edition, Yokohama): The School of Politics, was presented at the Yokohama Triennale. Other curatorial programmes include Insomnia48 at the Arts House, as well as the very successful Night Festival 2010 which drew close to 90,000 audience members in one weekend.

He is the first Singapore artist to have received both the Young Artist Award (1992) and the Cultural Medallion Award (2003) for Singapore, and he recently became the first contemporary performance artist to be awarded the prestigious Fukuoka Prize (2010) for his contribution to the development of Asian performance.

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