Lessons for peacebuilders from choreography

By Dr Abul Kalam

06 December 2012: Dr Abul Kalam introduces the notion of choreography and it's application to peacebuilding. By introducing choreography in a peace context is it possible to draw parallels from the techniques applied in popular entertainment to better help peacebuilders design interventions?

Bhand Pather - using traditional theatre for peacebuilding in Kashmir

 The idea for introducing choreography in a peace context is to draw parallels from the techniques applied in popular entertainment to better help peacebuilders design interventions.
Conflict is as old as mankind. So is the longing for peace. Conflict and peace thus go hand in hand. Conceptually peace is a response, or is causally linked, to conflict and/or war (both terms for analytical expediency are interchangeably used). Since 1945, after two successive devastating global wars. ‘peace’ found its way into the Charter of the United Nations as a key concept in the management of human relations. The world body has since been focused on peace; yet world peace remains unachieved.

The notion of ‘peacebuilding’ emerged in this backdrop as part of an enduring process to attain peace. The objective is to promote a world free from the curses of conflict and war. Since the mid-twentieth century, much effort has gone towards conceptualising and building the blocks of peace. Yet, peacebuilding is yet to emerge as a substitute to the toxic cycles of conflict.

To compliment peacebuilding efforts, this article introduces the notion of ‘choreography’. The idea for introducing choreography in a peace context is to draw parallels from the techniques applied in popular entertainment to better help peacebuilders design interventions.

Design of choreography

The key role of choreography in entertainment is to sequence and synchronize motion or form in dance, entertainment or music. A choreographer is one who creates routines to impact the mind of the audience, designs sequences of moves by means of notation, specifies motion and form in detail mirroring, shadowing and signalling, and a range of other moves.

Choreography and peacebuilding

Peacebuilding needs to sequence steps for harmonization of actions, inputs and interventions for building a momentum towards peace
Choreography need not, however, be limited to the field of entertainment. Choreography may be useful as a way of thinking about peacebuilding. Peacebuilding needs to sequence steps for harmonization of actions, inputs and interventions for building a momentum towards peace. A peacebuilding choreographer must sequence and synchronise movements, specify motion or form of action or intervention for a sustained momentum toward peace.

A seven-fold stage is shown in the charts below for a peace choreographer. The moves in the 1st 4-stages are focused on ranges of conflict, the 5th has a mix of levels in strategic continuum (red) and in peace continuum (olive green), the 6th identifies a peacebuilding continuum in both diagnosis and prognoses, with steps needed for transition from negative to positive peace, and the 7th focuses on positive peacebuilding. At every stage of this process peace choreographers must act as social engineers or physicians: building peace blocks, providing prescriptions, tune notation, specifying form in detail mirroring, shadowing and signalling.

Notations in conflict

At stages of diagnosis the peace choreographers may confront the complexity of a conflict situation, and will have to shape moves in such a way as to, as Johan Galtung envisions, “engineer away” conflicts. The conflict will identify structures of conflict/war, ideologies, parties involved, motivation and objectives, and more. The peace moves have to target each aspect to be successful.

Peacebuilding fails when a peace choreographer fails to diagnose what constitutes a conflict, what of conflicts constitute a threat to peace or how a peacebuilder can prevent escalation.

A conflict shapes itself in an ABC triangle: Attitude/perception moulds Behaviour, which then leads to Conflict in a vicious cycle (Chart 2). A conflict may be of low intensity or high intensity, moving through crisis to war. It may be at the individual, community, national or global levels. It may become asymmetric or symmetric, depending upon level of power structure, levels of weaponry used and may result in humanitarian disasters or mass slaughter (Charts 3-4).

A peace choreographer has to tune on delicate notation in every move, recording the tantalizing challenges of strategic decisions, being prompted to tune in a cohesive manner towards building peace, portending moves which may serve, if not as panacea, at least providing creative solutions to the up-and-coming problems of peacebuilding.

Building peace in a conflict is full of challenges. Conflict has its continuities, impasses, escalations and stalemates. Conflict/war both synchronize a process of escalation/impasse in a continuum of violence from the lower echelon of disagreement — low intensity conflict — to an upper plane of violence or hostile behaviour, raising intensity of conflict to the level of high intensity conflict or war. A conflict may be latent with/without hostile behaviour. An overt conflict is manifested in violence or hostile behaviour, which in a process of escalation may pass crisis and lead to war (Chart 4).

Peace design in a strategic continuum

Peace choreography becomes most challenging at the stage of 'strategic continuum'. The players here are entrenched in high intensity conflict and posturing (Chart 5). This follows an implicit failure of conflict groups to identify their perceptual divide. This has ramifications for peacebuilding, as all moves to a 'peace continuum' are stalled due to the bargaining behaviour and the mutual rigidities of the partisans.

Nevertheless, a peacebuilder cannot but remain focused on a way to shift away from strategic continuum to a peace continuum i.e. moving through negative and positive peacebuilding to integration and development (Charts 5-6). Towards this end channels of communication must not be allowed to subside, and intermediaries must must work to raise confidence and hope in peacebuilding .

Negative peacebuilding

As conflict moves from latent/low intensity to overt or high intensity, the peace choreographer must remain focused how to make counter moves & ensure that the road to peace is not lost. A 'policy dancing' may (as is suggested in Chart 6; steps 1 - 6) follow at relevant levels of decision-making by those who are not merely interested in ending overt conflict, but as a way to shift all involved from impasse or stalemate to recognising mutual interests.

To begin with, this may involve peacekeeping. In such a situation a coordinated peace process has to be in place to curb the process of escalation, with peacekeepers preventing an aggravation of conflict, alongside efforts to show conflict parties their mutual interests in peace. Peace posturing must replace strategic posturing. Efforts may also follow to avoid spoilers damaging the peace process.

Multiple 'policy dancing' may have to involve high profile meetings between and among the conflicting parties. Regular levels of meetings at the operational and/or technical levels, and working with low-level contacts can be facilitated as part of confidence-building efforts. Communication, conversation, and dialogue may lead to mutual concessions. Conflict may thus step back to de-escalation, moving to a higher level of peacebuilding, passing through the dark tunnels with rays of light in view.

Positive Peacebuilding

Peace design at the level of positive peacebuilding must remain focused and active to exact or induce further concessions with the goal of finding a ‘win-win’ solution. Many issues may arise over a range of problems (Charts 6-7) which may need multiple 'policy dance' routines. An organic intervention process must ensue a shift away from strategic to peace continuum, lead to cooperative relationships, enabling the partisans to feel they have achieved success.

Externally imposed, or 'top-down', planning must give way to joint-venture development projects through economic cooperation and cross-community links. Promoting local harmony, ensuring justice and tackling structural inequalities must be a priority. Economic/technical aid or development support may provide incentives, but ought not to be misperceived as asymmetric inputs. Civil society must be drawn in as part of public opinion mobilization, with a particular focus on social inclusion of children, women and deprived communities in environmental protection, participatory planning and project execution so that development reaches the grassroots.


To bring the idea of choreography into a peacebuilding context may sound a little outlandish; but many a peace organisations are already using music and the arts to convey the universality of peace messages. Viewed in this context it seems proper to re-invent choreography in peace field, as it may enhance efforts to lay the foundations for peace. What seems pertinent is discuss is how to perfect an idea taken from entertainment for the unenviable task of peacebuilding in a peaceless world?

This article is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA License. You are free to republish this article on your website, subject to some conditions. More information on republishing this article.

This article is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. You are free to republish this article on your website, on condition that you include the following attribution:

Insight on Conflict is the leading online resource for local peacebuilding and human rights in conflict areas. This article was originally published on Insight on Conflict. Published by Peace Direct, Insight on Conflict is the leading online resource for local peacebuilding and human rights in conflict areas.

To include this attribution, add the following html code to the bottom of the article:

<div><div class="style:both"></div><a href="http://www.insightonconflict.org"><img style="float: left; margin-right: 10px;" alt="Insight on Conflict is the leading online resource for local peacebuilding and human rights in conflict areas. " src="http://www.insightonconflict.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/ioc-license.jpg" width="200" height="95" /></a>This article was <a href="" >originally published on Insight on Conflict</a>. Published by <a href="http://www.peacedirect.org/">Peace Direct</a>, Insight on Conflict is the leading online resource for local peacebuilding and human rights in conflict areas.<div class="style:both"></div></div>


Ruth Musgrave on Dec. 10, 2012, 12:09 p.m.

Thank you for this thoughtful article. I like the metaphor of choreography for peace building. I would be interested to share with fellow practitioners in Bangladesh what this might look like practically so I would be gald to hear of any examples from the field which describe a "choreographed" approach to peacebuilding

Abul Kalam on Dec. 14, 2012, 11:30 a.m.

Thanks for the feedback, which I do most sincerely appreciate, as your thoughts carry the realistic insight of a grass roots peace activist and you can foresee, as well, what is achievable and what the likely hurdles are. I do sense a bit of frustration in your response, in particular reference to Bangladesh, as you raise a number of pertinent questions touching on all encompassing areas of peacebuilding. The concerns are genuine and need to be addressed within the limited contexts of such communications. When you re-read the piece in the backdrop of the illustrative charts (7 in all) you may get a clear view that choreography even as a metaphor is designed to be inclusive of peacebuilding at all levels, from grass roots to the higher levels of strategic decision making. I am aware that MCC as a peace organization, with its multiple peace objectives, strives to widen peacebuilding networks in both developing and developed world, which is quite appropriate. I am happy indeed that you mention Bangladesh, my birthplace, but it is not the only country that I have had in mind, as it is not an isolated island in the sea of conflicts; even if it were, as you are aware that Bengal has rich legacies of functional conflict resolution mechanisms dating back to the days of British Raj, most of which rendered purposeful services at micro-levels of society, even though the struggle against the Raj was most intense in Bengal than in any other part of British India. If we limit our focus to current conflict spectrum in Bangladesh (i.e. corruption and violence or confrontational politics), it is not very different from the perceptible scenes of those in the neighbouring countries; rather they carry the same legacies, both in symptoms and manifestations. Politics, as you are aware, is part and parcel of an intensifying conflict system globally. Therefore, the pattern of conflict in Bangladesh can hardly be disjointed from the rest of the world conflict system. As a lifelong academic I feel tempted to delve a little into the pattern of scholarly perspective on some of the relevant issues. The academic world has had projections from the illuminating writings of many analysts foreshadowing conflicts and violence. In the 60s James N. Rosenau wrote ‘linkage politics’, summarily relating state’s conflict behaviour both within and without, whilst almost three decades later Samuel P. Huntington, articulated his well-known thesis of ‘clash of civilizations’ where he prophesied culture causing "great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict”. Much of the last few decades have indeed wasted lot of human energies and world resources due to the resulting terror and violence, including stunning events such as 9/11, 7/7 and saw as well rising spectre of violent behaviour at all levels globally. Last year the UK itself saw outbursts of vandalism and violence affecting homes, shopping malls and streets of London, Birmingham and Manchester where theories of conflict behavior or theses of cultural conflict have had any relevance. In the context of peacebuilding, I believe, those concerned like us should project pathways where hypothesized models of political and/or cultural divides would have least relevance. Sources and symptoms of conflict at all levels are to be diagnosed as they appear and prescriptions for medication should be applied as appropriate to the levels and conflict symptoms once they surface. . The notion of choreography as applied in popular entertainment has been chosen purposely so that the peacebuilders in their designs can empower themselves to doing what the arts of entertainment can do or have endeavoured to achieve. Returning to issues that confront peacebuilding in Bangladesh, a little backward journey may help recapitulate how powerfully the national consciousness of the Bengalis had been regenerated against the brutalities of the Pakistani army in 1971 through an artful application of the notations of Ravi Shankar (a son of the soil) and George Harrison (the famed English musician of the Beatles)? A smooth democratic evolution is bound to be daunting in a country that saw alternating struggles against the perceived enemies—imperial authorities, ‘internal colonialism’ and had the harrowing experiences of a Liberation War. It is not unnatural for societies like this to have a high intensity conflict/posturing etc between the political parties, violence, corruption, which do make peacebuilding an onerous task. . . The case of Reen Shalishee Board, as introduced by A K Fazlul Haq during the British Raj serves as an example how to resuscitate peacebuilding from below. More recently, Ain-O-Shalish Kendra as an organization has been actively engaged in grass roots peacebuilding. Even at the official level there has been much publicity given to bring in ADR so that conflicts and litigation may be minimized. The Bengalis/Bangladeshis by tradition are also very music-loving, a legacy that has been highly enriched and deepened by Tagore, Nazrul, Lalon Shah, Abbasuddin, Hason Raza and more recently by Shah Abdul Karim. If their rhymes and tunes could have helped the Bengalis in a sustained socio-cultural regeneration towards creation of a national entity why those cannot now be turned into notations for rescuing the country from the quandary it is in? The Bengalis, after all, are supposedly dedicated to the creation of a ‘Sonar Bangla’ (Golden Bengal), as their national anthem (taken from Tagore) reminds them at all times! Choreographers are required to re-invent all this for the end of peacebuilding. As for high intensity conflict/posturing etc, as you mentioned, involving the mainstream political parties the quest is indeed for power where the peacebuilders can hardly take any side, but they may at least tacitly help identify who the well-meaning patriots are and may also help redeem the much envisioned dream of Sonar Bangla.’ However, peacebuilders in the current context of Bangladesh cannot, and should not, become political partisans, but efforts may involve working for perceptual shifts or de-escalation at the levels with peoples/groups you may work with. The relevance of ‘policy dancing’, as is articulated in this context may require multi-level communication, conversation, dialogue or meetings, where possible or feasible as part of confidence building efforts for inducing mutual concessions. Contact-setting and networking, to begin with, would be most appropriate, so that credentials are known and credibility is established.

Dr Martins Adegbe Ayegba on Aug. 23, 2013, 9:59 a.m.

This is an interesting article drawing attention to an art form that people have taken for granted in the arena of peace-building. A good insight into the role of the entertainment sector in peace-building. Choreography as it were is not just intended to entertain but to also educate and provide an aesthetic voice for the promotion of peace. A choreographed piece of art can communicate messages and illustrations that can promote peaceful coexistence. I believe that the arts provide the most available environment for peace-building. Art and as a matter of fact choreography is a product of harmony and for peace to exist , harmony must manifest. My problem however is that, the article, rather than simplify and make available the principles that can help choreographers achieve the aim and objectives of peace-building, it has made it too complex and perhaps too academic for easy comprehension and availability in practical terms. at a point I began to remind my self that the article is on choreography in peace-building. My country Nigeria has unfortunately joined the league of conflict zones across the world and we are desirous of all means that will help the peace-building process which is a continuous thing and requires all hands on deck. As a teacher of the Arts (Theatre arts) Am happy that choreography is implicated in the peace building process.

Dr. Abul Kalam on Aug. 28, 2013, 2:05 p.m.

I deeply appreciate the perceptive views of Dr Martins Adegbe Ayegba on ‘Choreography of Peacebuilding’ and feel indebted to him for the insightful comments offered on the motivational aspects that I sought to paint in my piece, in which I projected the role of the entertainment sector in peacebuilding. I particularly notice his positive views on the educational facet of the amusement industry as an art and its aesthetic voice towards promotion of peace that I had highlighted. He has rightly spotted the message conveyed in the piece how a choreographed piece of art can contribute to an environment conducive for peacebuilding. I do also share the view that choreography can be “a product of harmony” and that “for peace to exist, harmony must manifest” However, Dr Ayegba, has also identified some problem areas affecting conflict zones, which include the following: (i) Whether there could be some easier approach or principle which might help choreographers to achieve the aim and objectives of peacebuilding; (ii) Whether there can be better tools for practical application of the art for peacebuilding; (iii) Whether for a country like Nigeria that “has unfortunately joined the league of conflict zones across the world” are there means accessible that will help peacebuilding process in the country? First of all, let me come clear on the point that I am an ‘academic’ with deep interest in the peace field. I do also for my part view that conflict resolution or peacebuilding process is rather ‘complex’ but as Dr Ayegba himself says, it “is a continuous thing and requires all hands on deck.” Most conflicts in their origins and nature are complex and require equally complex means for their resolution. Choreography is suggested as one of the accessible means. Therefore, on the issue of simplifying and making available an easier principle for peacebuilding my submission will be first to analyse the nature of conflict, whether the conflict is rooted in history or culture, whether the conflict has entrenched elements of extraneous nature? It is also essential to examine the strategic means in display or in use by the protagonists. Only then one can reflect on easier/successful way of responses that may be relevant or required. Responses could be multifaceted and at multilevel where choreography is suggested as an applicable art so as to awaken motivation and/or provide incentives to the people concerned or affected due to peace-less situations emerging. On the tools for practical application of the art for peacebuilding there must be internal mirror unique to conflict/violence cropping up in each society. The selection of applicable art whether drum music or any performing fine art, I believe, has to be indigenized as it were, without any intrusive element of the outside world (such as observed in contemporary African fashion of hybridization, a borrowing fashion quite often perceptible in most countries of the developing world). Quite happily, to my mind, Dr. Ayegba as a specialist in performing art is indeed well placed in locating what would be the best tool for application for peacebuilding. With my hindsight I would be keen to see application of locally popular art that would instinctively arouse people’s zeal for the cause of peace. On the specific issue of Nigeria which is drawn into “the league of conflict zone across the world", there are issue areas that need to be appropriately diagnosed before prescriptive tools of choreography can be suggested or applied. It is known that Nigeria, like many other third world countries, has witnessed since its independence in 1960 an unremitting pressure of conflicts of all sorts. Many tended to view the ending of the Biafran war as the beginning of a new era for the largest populated African country; yet it has remained embroiled in almost perpetual or multilayered conflicts, involving players of one kind or another, with Boko Haram as one of the latest outfits, that added twist to the tangled conflict scenario bruising the African giant and raising concerns among perceptive professionals like Dr. Ayegba. It is equally true that Nigeria, despite its historical legacies of feudal, tribal, ethnic, territorial and religious strife of all sorts has so far successfully surmounted pressure of the conflicts that vitiated its steps forward as a stable society. I am aware that Dr. Ayegba is actively associated with Peace and Collaborative Development Network (PCDN) and is also an academic in an esteemed Nigerian institution of learning. Therefore, I feel confident that he would be able to add up to the perspective and vision required to provoke innovative thinking on how to make things happen and also make his expertise on performing art available in order to create public awareness vis-a-vis conflict trends in Nigeria. Keeping in the back of my mind of all that I stated earlier may I suggest the following steps for analysing the current conflict: (i) determine the priorities of conflict, (ii) indentify the players, (iii) understand the nature of their involvement and their internal/external links, (iv) classify the particular area of the conflict that is prioritised, and (v) finally, re-invent the popular culture of the conflict locality in order to think about which particular trend/theme of performing art that may be most appropriate or relevant to arouse the people concerned towards peacebuilding. With my South Asian background I am aware that performing art such as village and/or street theatres have proved quite effective tools to raise mass consciousness, so did popular music (gana-sangeet); but please do use your classrooms (as I suggested to my academic contacts everywhere) and your current networks in order to envision the relevant principle or tools that would be best suited to current context of Nigerian conflicts.

Dr Martins Adegbe Ayegba on Aug. 28, 2013, 2:40 p.m.

Many thanks Prof. I must say that your response gives me an encouraging voice on the desire for peace around the world from all blocks of endeavor. I am even more encouraged with the apt reception of the feeble idea I tried to pen down after I read your piece. I am re-reading the original post all over again to pay attention to your submission once more and the additions in the recent response. This is helpful! and when I thinking of coming up with a paper that can generate more discussion here around me and beyond, I am sure the horizon will widen. I like the passion with which you write of the obvious believe in the peace tradition and much enthused by your knowledge of my country Nigeria. your tone has a lot of sympathy in it and the least I can say for now is that you have 'gingered my antennae' in this concern. I am sure to make further contributions soon. Thank you for the lead.