Dr Michelle Nicholson-Sanz, BA, MPHIL, MA, PHD

Job title

Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow, Researcher


I am an interdisciplinary researcher working at the interface of performance, theatre, and post-colonial and ecology studies with experience of teaching in Higher Education in the UK and Peru. I am currently a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Research Fellow at Central, working on the three-year project 'Making Waves: Assessing Contemporary Collaborative Performances of Water'. In this project I undertake an in-depth analysis of successful international collaborative performance interventions focused specifically on water. This research is timely as current water crises internationally draw attention and warnings from the World Economic Forum and the World Bank that water is an urgent global eco-political matter. I examine how four performance interventions facilitate interdisciplinary dialogues between artists, communities, scientists, government bodies and other stakeholders. I focus on case studies from different countries and waterscapes: Andean lakes in Peru, groundwater in central India, waterways in northern Italy and the ocean in northern Scotland. These examples have been selected because they are based in countries with varying levels of industrialisation and economic development, which is critical if issues of environmental justice are not to be overlooked or erased.

Born and educated in Peru, I first became interested in theatre research after reading Aristotle’s Poetics as an undergraduate and wrote an MPhil thesis in Philosophy (Distinction) on the Aristotelian theory of mimesis in ancient Greek Tragedy. I then wanted to expand my interest in theatre to performance modes that transcend the primacy of the written word, among other conventions of Western theatre. Having grown up in the Peruvian Andes (Arequipa and Cusco), I was keen to study the region’s rich centuries-old ritual pageantries. I completed a fully funded MA degree in International Performance Research (Distinction) at the University of Warwick (England) and Tampere University (Finland). My MA thesis examined the Paucartambo ritual festival, asking how mestizo (Spanish and indigenous Quechua) identity is negotiated by means of performance; i.e. by using primarily masked bodies dancing across space rather than conventional text. In this fiesta few words are uttered — mainly through songs — yet a story of place belonging and ethnic identity is retold annually. I then studied (with a fully funded scholarship) for a PhD at the Department of Drama of Queen Mary, University of London. In my doctoral thesis I combined a number of interests, from Western theatre to non-Western performative traditions, to transnationalism, to the performance of place and self. I considered how three Latin American theatre companies perform the sense of place of the port cities where they reside. They do so by creating transnational dramaturgical languages that comprise performative traditions that are now local to the cities considered but originally arrived there either through immigration or European colonisation. Peruvian theatre group Yuyachkani look at the place of indigenous peoples in Lima. Catalinas Sur, at the cultural identities produced by mid-nineteenth-century European immigration to Buenos Aires. And Bando de Teatro Olodum consider what it means to be Afro-Brazilian in Salvador de Bahia.

My research interests have led me to be a Visiting Fellow at the School of Advanced Studies, University of London (2016–17); to take part of the International Port and Maritime Studies Network (University of Liverpool); to conceive and organise an international conference on place belonging in the Americas at Senate House, London (2013); and to be part of the production team of Cirko, Helsinki’s Annual Contemporary Circus Festival (2009). I have presented my work — both as guest speaker and conference presenter — in Spain, Chile, Wales, England, Greece and Peru. I have developed strong research networks with institutions, artists and other researchers in England, Peru, Argentina, Finland and Brazil, and have also acted as adviser to the Department of Performing Arts of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru on the consolidation of their MA programme.

Research Areas

I am interested in the ways in which ideas of place and place belonging are explored within a range of cultural practices, from rituals to live art, to theatre to walking. Currently, I am focusing on performative explorations of places that are significantly shaped by water and are facing the socioeconomic, ecological and political challenges that climate change brings about on them.

Teaching Areas

  • Performance and ecology
  • Applied theatre
  • Performance studies
  • Political theatre and live art
  • Performance of place, race and nation
  • Performance and space
  • Intercultural theatre
  • Ethnographic research methods for theatre and performance studies
  • Ritual performance
  • Latin American theatre
  • Critical race theory
  • Postcolonial theory

Funding Awards

In the last ten years, I have been granted several awards from various institutions. Major funding includes the Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship; Queen Mary, University of London’s doctoral studentship; Newcastle University’s Research Development Fund, The Institute for the Study of the Americas’ Conference Grant, and Queen Mary University’s Research Fund to organise the international conference 'Arts and Belonging in the Americas Today'; the Society for Latin American Studies’ Travel Grant to undertake doctoral fieldwork; the Glynne Wickham Award; the International Federation for Theatre Research Conference Bursary; and the European Commission’s Erasmus Mundus MA studentship.


‘Ethnography in/as Performance: On the Politics and Ethics of Ethnography in International Performance Research’, in International Performance Research Pedagogies. Towards an Unconditional Discipline, ed. by Sruti Bala, et al. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017, pp. 109–21.

‘On My Mind’s World Map, I See an Africa: Bando de Teatro Olodum’s Re-routing of Afro-Brazilian Identity’, Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance 19(3), 2014. Special Issue: ‘New Practice, New Methods, New Voices’, pp. 287–95.

‘Have You Ever Looked Carefully at your Flag? Placing Kristian Smeds’ The Unknown Soldier against a Finnish Sense of Place’, Journal of the Department of Literature and the Arts (University of Tampere, Finland) 10(1), 2009, pp. 8–16.

Review of Postcolonial Disorders. Ethnographic Studies in Subjectivities, ed. by Mary-Jo DelVecchio Good, et al., E-misférica (Journal of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics) 6(1), 2009 .

In preparation

Entries on directors from Peru, Venezuela and Bolivia, in Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Stage Directors and Directing, ed. by Maria Delgado and Simon Williams. Cambridge University Press.

Staging Port Cities: Place, Race and Nation in Lima, Buenos Aires and Salvador de Bahia. Monograph. Palgrave Macmillan.