Charlie Ely

Charlie Ely


I am a theatre-maker, educator, and PhD candidate within the Workshop Theatre, School of English. I began my doctoral research in October 2019, funded by the Gatenby Scholarship. My work looks at the relationships between contemporary East African choreographies, identities and geographies. I focus on this emerging field and recognise the epistemological value of dance, as part of the imperative to decolonise contemporary African arts pratices.

Between completing my MA at Royal Central School of Speech & Drama and returning to academia, I spent seven years working in professional theatre, applied theatre and education. I was the Founder and Artistic Director of London Grey & Green Theatre Co from 2013–2017. The company was dedicated to producing intelligent and provocative new work with at least 50% female representation on- and off-stage. In 2017, I was interviewed on BBC Asian Network about our production Princess Suffragette, feminism and the suffragette movement. From 2013–16, I was the Associate Director of Peaceful Lion Productions, which creates high-quality theatre for children and family audiences.

In 2017, I spent a month with Lagnet Theatre Company, Kenya, leading workshops and co-creating a new play on women’s rights and sustainable farming. This experience, along with a further five months in the region, led me towards my current research.

Research interests

My doctoral research explores the work of contemporary choreographers making cutting-edge dance theatre in Eastern Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda). Their work variously combines traditional indigenous theatre and dance with contemporary and international forms. Within the context of differing colonial and post-colonial histories across the region, the artists’ individual backgrounds and training, and their engagements with an increasingly globalised world, I look at how their aesthetics relate or differ, and whether we can talk about localised, East African or transnational and cosmopolitan art forms.

This research also takes account of the socio-political and economic structures which inform the cultural landscape in which these artists are working. State control and support, along with the influences of foreign NGOs, universities and public bodies, play a huge part in the production and distribution of performance in the region.

Research interests include:

  • Physical theatre and dance theatre
  • Modern and postmodern practices
  • Intercultural and transcultural practices
  • Performance and international development
  • Performance, politics and ethics
  • Phenomenology and embodiment
  • Documentation, archives and technology



  • Postgraduate Teaching Assistant – teaching across undergraduate modules in the School of English (Drama: Reading and Interpretation, Foundations of English) and the School of Performance and Cultural Industries (Performance Perspectives, Exploring Performance: Cultures and Contexts) since 2020
  • Postgraduate Representative for the School of English, 2022-23
  • Co-convenor of the Postgraduate Research Seminar series, School of English, 2021–22


Research groups and institutes

  • Performance Training, Preparation and Pedagogy Research Group (School of Performance & Cultural Industries)
  • LUCAS (Leeds University Centre for African Studies)



  • AHC Faculty Research Dissemination Award, University of Leeds, 2022
  • Ivor Guest Research Grant, Society for Dance Research, 2021
  • Gatenby Scholarship, School of English, Univeristy of Leeds, 2019



  • ‘East African dance theatre, archival failures and decolonisation in the digital present’, TaPRA Annual Conference 2022, University of Essex, September 2022
  • ‘Digital dance and domesticity: the work of female East African choreographers in a time of Covid’, Jomba! Masihambisane Dialogues, University of KwaZulu-Natal (online), June 2021
  • ‘Conte: An Emerging Transnational Dance Movement in Late 20th Century East Africa’, Intersections: Border-Crossings, Royal Central School of Speech & Drama (online), May 2021 
  • ‘An analysis of emergent immersive theatre practices: pleasure or instruction?’, PG Conference: Performing Research, Royal Central School of Speech & Drama (2012)



  • MA Theatre Studies (Distinction) - Royal Central School of Speech & Drama
  • BA English Literature and Drama Studies (1st Class) - University of Sussex
  • CELTA - Language Link, London