Dr Martin Leach

Job: Senior Lecturer

Faculty: Arts, Design and Humanities

School/department: School of Humanities and Performing Arts

Address: De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester, UK, LE1 9BH

T: +44 (0)116 250 6191

E: mpleach@dmu.ac.uk

W: https://www.dmu.ac.uk/arts


Personal profile

Dr Martin Leach is a Senior Lecturer at De Montfort University where he teaches anatomy, physiology and philosophy to dance students. He originally read English and Drama at the University of Hull. He witnessed Tadeusz Kantor’s Wielopole, Wielopole at the 1980 Edinburgh Festival.

Inspired by this experience he went on to win a Polish government scholarship to study theatre directing in Poland from 1982–1983 where he attended performances of Kantor’s The Dead Class in Kraków. Martin trained as a teacher of the Alexander Technique where he acquired his interest in relating scientific and philosophical ideas to practice.

More recently Martin returned to Kraków to research his PhD on Kantor. He is currently working on a book project: ‘Even the thing I am …’: Tadeusz Kantor and the Poetics of Being'.

Research group affiliations

Drama, Dance, and Performance Studies

Publications and outputs

  • ‘Even the thing I am …’: Tadeusz Kantor and the Poetics of Being
    dc.title: ‘Even the thing I am …’: Tadeusz Kantor and the Poetics of Being dc.contributor.author: Leach, Martin dc.description.abstract: This thesis explores ways in which the reality of Kantor’s existence at a key moment in occupied Kraków may be read as directly informing the genesis and development of his artistic strategies. It argues for a particular ontological understanding of human being that resonates strongly with that implied by Kantor in his work and writings. Most approaches to Kantor have either operated from within a native perspective that assumes familiarity with Polish culture and its influences, or, from an Anglo-American theatre-history perspective that has tended to focus on his larger-scale performance work. This has meant that contextual factors informing Kantor’s work as a whole, including his happenings, paintings, and writings, as well as his theatrical works, have remained under-explored. The thesis takes a Heideggerian-hermeneutic approach that foregrounds biographical, cultural and aesthetic contexts specific to Kantor, but seemingly alien to Anglo-American experience. Kantor’s work is approached from Heideggerian and post-Heideggerian perspectives that read the work as a world-forming response to these contexts. Read in this way, key writings, art and performance works by Kantor are revealed to be explorations of existence and human being. Traditional ontological distinctions between process and product, painting and performance, are problematised through the critique of representation that these works and working practices propose. Kantor is revealed as a metaphysical artist whose work stands as a testament to a Heideggerian view of human being as a ‘positive negative’: a ‘placeholder of nothing’, but a ‘nothing’ that yet ‘is’
  • Psychophysical what? What would it mean to say ‘there is no “body” … there is no “mind”’ in dance practice?
    dc.title: Psychophysical what? What would it mean to say ‘there is no “body” … there is no “mind”’ in dance practice? dc.contributor.author: Leach, Martin dc.description.abstract: There have been numerous attempts to solve the apparent dualism of ‘body’ and ‘mind’, purportedly uniting mutually incompatible binaries through hyphenation, the creation of compound terms, or the erasure of one of the terms entirely. ‘Psychophysical’, ‘psychosomatic’ (with or without the word ‘unity’), ‘mind-body’, ‘body-mind’, and, following Hanna (1970), ‘somatic’, have all been advanced as a means of articulating an undivided sense of human being. This discussion deconstructs this descriptive matrix in an attempt to expose the naked paradox of human being obscured by tacit assumptions hidden in language. In dance the idea of ‘body’ is often afforded priority. Dancers understanding of themselves in activity, whether performing or observing – in the fields of learning, creating or rehearsing – is critically affected by their conception of themselves as divided or unified beings. To say, ‘there is no “body” … or “mind”’ might facilitate a more productive, poietic sense of practice, a ‘thinking in activity’ that does not imply a dualistic ontology. This requires a practical philosophical perspective. Such ‘philosophical practicality’ in dancers’ practice may afford them greater resilience for their future careers against the fragmentation of dis-unity that thinking of ‘body’ or ‘mind’ engenders. dc.description: The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.
  • Things taken as obvious... distort. The speaking dancer and the Question of Being
    dc.title: Things taken as obvious... distort. The speaking dancer and the Question of Being dc.contributor.author: Hay, Marie; Leach, Martin dc.description.abstract: What do we see when we see a dancer dance? It seems obvious that we see a body moving. But what if the dancer speaks? The animation of the body alone should have told us that we are not only looking at a body. That words are also spoken reinforces the fact that we are looking at a being, a thing-in-animation, and that the pro-duction of movement and word is not reducible to body but is concealed in un-say-ability. How might we say the unsayable being? This speaking dancer, this living combination of speech and gesture, may also be taken as a paradigm for the problem of considering what we see when we see any human being in its process of being. As Heidegger has observed, ‘things taken as obvious […] distort beings’. When we see and hear the dancer we think we perceive a body that is living. But what we really experience is the living itself in its essence of animation: the human being in the process of its being. How does the obvious presence of the body as the means by which words and gesture are expressed distort the essential being of the dancer? Does the body imply a being that is not there? And if so, is this unsayable being still a being? Does body distort being by obscuring soul? Flesh is flesh. Space is space. Time passes. Or so it seems. Here, in this room, we experience a dancer who moves and speaks. What can this tell us about the being of human being? We will explore this question through the format of a performative essay involving movement, speech and intervention. We will attempt to disrupt the obvious in order to expose ways of thinking about the question of being through the paradigm of a dancer that speaks. dc.description: First performed at conference: Dance Fields: Staking a Claim for Dance Studies in the 21st Century (19-22 April 2017) University of Roehampton. Further developed and performed as part of the Cultural Exchanges Festival (26 February - 2 March 2018) DMU.
  • The Place of Time
    dc.title: The Place of Time dc.contributor.author: Breslin, Jo; Foster, Christopher; Leach, Martin dc.description.abstract: ‘The Place of Time’ uses choreography, writing, composition and improvisation to weave a performance around movement, sound and text. It reveals the interdependence of each source and their points of departure. Jo Breslin and Martin Leach (DMU), and Christopher Foster (University of Wolverhampton) play with the time and place in which things may happen. Between the deadpan, the wry, and the expressive ‘The Place of Time’ becomes a question about the performance of a reality that is not what it seems. The performance borrows its title and some of its themes from an essay by Peter Galinson.* Between 1902 and 1909 Einstein worked in the Bern patent office as a technical expert evaluating electromagnetic patents concerning the regulation of time in multiple locations. To assess these documents Einstein and his colleagues stood at wooden podiums on which they examined the papers. By 1905 Einstein had produced his own papers establishing the particle theory of light (for which he received the Nobel Prize) and his Special Theory of Relativity. This performance takes as its starting point Einsteinʼs working situation in the Bern office as he pondering the ontology of simultaneity standing at his podium. It uses the notion of relational pathways and the interconnectedness of time and space to play with simple movement in the context of a process-based musical composition and a text exploring Heideggerian ideas of being. * Peter Galinson (2000) Einsteinʼs Clocks: The Place of Time, Critical Inquiry, vol. 26, no. 2, (Winter 2000) pp.355–389 dc.description: Performance
  • Tadeusz Kantor and Modernism
    dc.title: Tadeusz Kantor and Modernism dc.contributor.author: Leach, Martin dc.description.abstract: This chapter will argue that in order to understand Tadeusz Kantor’s relationship to, and place in, twentieth-century Modernism, it is necessary to understand his inherently poetic and philosophical approach to his practice as an artist. As with other artists for whom the Second World War was a formative experience, Kantor’s particular aesthetic strategies are evidently profoundly influenced by his wartime experience. However, for Kantor this did not happen as a simple linear narrative in his artistic development. Until the 1970s, his experience can be understood to have been continually refracted through his engagement with a succession of international contemporary art practices. Each of Kantor’s encounters with a foreign art movement—Constructivism and abstraction, Surrealism, informel, “zero,” emballage, happening—was transformed in his hands through its intersection with his underlying concerns. As such, separate and, on the surface, seemingly disparate movements acquire a certain homogeneity as they are each détourned by Kantor in his struggles to articulate a poetics of being. As a consequence of his personal operation of them, these individual avant-garde artistic strategies are each turned into vehicles for each other. In this way, and certainly when viewed retrospectively, all of Kantor’s work can be seen to be expressive of certain tendencies from Constructivism, Dadaism, Surrealism and informel; it is all, in a sense, “impossible,” all “packaged,” all concerned with the “zero” or “nothing” of being, and all concerned with the immediacy and aleatoricism of the happening. With The Dead Class in 1975, Kantor began to leave such explicit engagement with, and personalization of, existing art forms behind. Nevertheless, his ability to consistently bend existing artistic practice to his own purpose is an intrinsic part of the process that led to his later work. The continuous element underlying this process is Kantor’s concern with the paradoxical nature of human being, what the contemporary, post-Heideggerian Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben would later characterize (following Hegel) as “this negative being”— “the thing existing which is not when it is, and is when it is not: a half-glimpsed becoming” (Agamben 2007: 107). Death is the negative side of this “half-glimpsed becoming.” This “negative being” is, in Heidegger’s words, the “placeholder,” or the “lieutenant of the nothing” (Heidegger 1968: 37, and 1998: 93). This chapter will explore in more detail the metaphysical underpinnings of the paradoxical “negative being” of human being in Kantor’s work. Firstly, I will examine the origins of Kantor’s engagement with art informel and argue that his interest with this form may derive from an underlying sense of informe peculiar to Polish Modernism that is embodied in the work of Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy), Witold Gombrowicz, and Bruno Schulz, as much as from the artists he encountered in his trips to Paris in 1948 and 1955. I will then discuss this in relation to Kantor’s détournement of the various avant-gardes that he experimented with during the 1950s and 1960s. In doing so I will show how Kantor’s reflection on aspects of his wartime work surfaces in the late 1960s in a way that prefigures certain key concerns that emerge more explicitly in The Dead Class and his subsequent work. This early, key experience in occupied Kraków will be shown to relate to Kantor’s reading of the work of the Jewish graphic artist and short- story writer Schulz, whose own aesthetic strategies of inverting dominant ontological hierarchies can be seen to inform Kantor’s own artistic practice. Implicit in this strategy is again a critique of a representational ontology that prioritizes a substantialist concept of being over the more dynamic and mutable concepts of becoming and seeming—a reading of reality that Schulz championed. In his performative and theatrical staging of various avant-garde approaches, Kantor can be seen to challenge conventional ontological hierarchies in a way that—following Nietzsche and Heidegger—articulates the anxieties of twentieth-century Modernism in a fundamental way. In doing so, Kantor’s work both echoes Schulz’s metaphysics and prefigures a sense of the immanence of life as elaborated in the work of Gilles Deleuze.
  • Technological enhancements in the teaching and learning of reflective and creative practice in dance
    dc.title: Technological enhancements in the teaching and learning of reflective and creative practice in dance dc.contributor.author: Doughty, Sally; Francksen, Kerry; Huxley, Michael; Leach, Martin dc.description.abstract: A team of researchers at De Montfort University’s Centre for Excellence in Performance Arts has explored uses of technology in dance education. The wider context of dance and technology pedagogy includes research into dance, technologies, learning and teaching and the relationships between teaching and research. The paper addresses all of these themes. Three pedagogic research projects are reported on. They address dance and technology in terms of: (i) teaching the Alexander Technique for dancers, (ii) improvisation, (iii) interactive practice using the software environment Isadora. Two main themes are highlighted: (1) use of technology as a means of enabling reflection, and (2) technology as a means of both engaging in the creative process and as a creative tool. It is argued that student-centred autonomous learning in dance can be significantly enhanced by an informed application of technologies. dc.description: This is an electronic version of an article published in Huxley, M., Doughty, S., Francksen, K. and Leach, M. (2008) Technological enhancements in the teaching and learning of reflective and creative practice in dance. Research in Dance Education. 9 (1), pp.129-146.
  • Letting Tattered Clothing Sing: Tadeusz Kantor’s Anatomy Lesson
    dc.title: Letting Tattered Clothing Sing: Tadeusz Kantor’s Anatomy Lesson dc.contributor.author: Leach, Martin dc.description.abstract: In 1968 in Nuremberg Kantor staged An Anatomy Lesson According to Rembrandt. However, this ‘anatomy’ was not of a cadaver but a dissection of the subject’s clothing—an anatomy of the hidden—of the contents of pockets, the lining and stuffing of fabric. Kantor’s artistic investigation in scientific form referred, via Rembrandt’s 1632 painting, to the idea of the seventeenth-century anatomy theatre: a scientific investigation in theatrical form. Each enacts a quest for knowledge: in art-event, painting or lecture-demonstration. The implicit object of each investigation is the living human subject: a ‘you’ or a ‘me’. Each enquiry can be placed in a historical ontological context—post-Heideggerian, post-Cartesian and post-Aristotelian—in which the self is understood as located in a particular world-view informing an individual’s sense of belonging or anxiety. My discussion examines Kantor’s Anatomy Lesson in relation to these conceptions of the self by tracing his aesthetic of ‘the reality of the lowest rank’ and how it arose out of his personal experience of the Nazi occupation. Viewed from this perspective, Kantor’s Anatomy Lesson can be seen as an ironic enactment of the catastrophic reversal of the hopes inherent in the project of enlightenment. The Nazi application of scientific reason led to some of the worst horrors in history. Implicit in the irony of Kantor’s Lesson is a definition of this horror—the reduction of the human subject to non-human object—the awful realisation of the hidden imperative in the scientific rationalism of Cartesian dualism. In staging this reduction Kantor can be seen to be operating within a Heideggerian conception of the self as the place of negativity, ‘held out over the nothing’, a liminal but precious presence. In the anatomy of clothing and marginal objects, this reconfiguration of Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson prefigures recent post-Heideggerian discourse around the concept of ‘bare life’.
  • The Problem of 'Feeling' in Dance Practice: Fragmentation and Unity
    dc.title: The Problem of 'Feeling' in Dance Practice: Fragmentation and Unity dc.contributor.author: Leach, Martin dc.description.abstract: In the The Man Without Content (1999) Giorgio Agamben problematises the traditional distinction between artist and spectator. Central to this distinction is the idea that art works by inducing a ‘feeling’ in the spectator. Agamben questions this dichotomy through a re-assessment of the relationship that questions the idea of aesthetic affect. This radical re-evaluation invites reconsideration of the place of ‘feeling’ not only in artistic practice but also in its reception and its pedagogy. The idea of ‘feeling’ is pervasive in dance. The nature of the medium—performed movement—has been supposed to communicate a ‘kinaesthetic sense’. But, what exactly is this ‘feeling’ that is, by implication, supposed to underwrite artistic practice and its reception? If the idea of art’s effect on the spectator is fundamentally flawed, where does that leave the role of ‘feeling’? ‘Feelings’ are not merely sensations, but their subjective appreciation. Caught in the web of memory, sensations are implicated in the contextual pattern of experience: interpreted and anticipated. ‘Feeling’ is a fact of lived experience that is less about ‘sensation’ than about the conscious subjective perception of being-in-the-world. But if ‘feeling’ is unreliable, of what use is it as a measure of artistic success and should it be dismissed as irrelevant? This paper will seek to re-articulate the nature of human being as one that is vibrantly suspended between conscious subjectivity and a world illuminated by that consciousness. Viewed in this way, the conventional thinking about ‘feeling’ in dance can be set aside and the practices of creation and spectating can be reunited in a new way through a fresh understanding of ‘feeling’ that takes into account its unreliability and its physiological and subjective reality.
  • Kantor's 'Poor Object' as Icon of Truth
    dc.title: Kantor's 'Poor Object' as Icon of Truth dc.contributor.author: Leach, Martin dc.description.abstract: In a 1980 address Jacques Derrida characterised the problematic of representation as a ʻsendingʼ or ʻdispatchʼ—as envoi of truth. For Derrida the appearance of the envoi is not separate from that which it represents. Such a revision of the relationship between truth and representation derives from Heideggerʼs reading of Plato, which deconstructs the Allegory of the Cave into a narrative economy. The ʻimageʼ of truth enshrined in Platoʼs cave is seen in terms of a necessarily structured process of disclosure or alētheia. Such an ʻeconomy of truthʼ is also an inherent part of the Orthodox iconʼs uncanny power to act as the envoi of truth from ʻthe other worldʼ. Recent research has identified a relationship between the metaphysics of icons and the early twentieth-century avant-gardes in contemporaneous Russian writing. In categorically located his ʻpoor objectʼ ʻbetween the garbage dump and eternityʼ Tadeusz Kantorʼs aesthetic apparently bears an unlikely affinity with the ʻhammered gold and gold enamellingʼ—ʻthe artifice of eternityʼ of Orthodox icons. However, whilst Kantor can be seen to draw on the metaphysics of Bruno Schulzʼs ʻdegraded realityʼ, his apparently peculiar marriage of symbolism and abstraction indicate a previously unexplored proximity, via the Russian avant- garde, with the mystical legacy of the aesthetic logic of icons. This paper makes links between Pavel Florenskyʼs work on space and representation, in particular his 1919 essay ʻReverse Perspectiveʼ, and Heideggerʼs and Derridaʼs critiques of representation, drawing on recent research to shed new light on Kantorʼs aesthetic of the ʻrealʼ.
  • Tadeusz Kantor as 'Hunger Artist' in the 'Poor Room of the Imagination'
    dc.title: Tadeusz Kantor as 'Hunger Artist' in the 'Poor Room of the Imagination' dc.contributor.author: Leach, Martin dc.description.abstract: In a story by Franz Kafka, a caged man endures hunger as a public spectacle, an act of self-starvation antithetical to life. The attraction lies in taking life to the precipice of extinction. In witnessing the diminishing of vitality to its vanishing point, the value of life itself is somehow affirmed for the spectator. Echoes of Kafka can be found in the late art of Tadeusz Kantor whose aesthetic of “poor reality” underwent a radical transformation. As the ageing artist approached death he began to use himself as his own “found object”. Where Kafka martyred himself in his writing, Kantor became a version of Kafka’s “Hunger Artist” and put the condition of his encroaching death on display. In his painting he returned to figuration in a series of self-portraits, and his presence in his theatre changed from that of demiurge-creator to participant-victim. This essay uses the metaphysics of Heidegger and Agamben to examine this turn in Kantor’s aesthetic in his series of late paintings and theatrical works between 1985 and his death in 1990. Common to this late work is the motif of the “poor room of the imagination”, a metaphysical space in which the artist rehearses both a yearning for life and his departure from it. In using his art to confront his own condition Kantor can be seen to affirm the value of life even as it approaches the condition of extinction. In this sense Kantor eschews the negative endings of Kafka’s fictional heroes.

Doughty, Sally; Francksen, Kerry; Huxley, Michael; Leach, Martin (2008) ‘Technological enhancements in the teaching and learning of reflective and creative practice in dance’, in: Research in Dance Education. 9 (1): 129-146.

Leach, M. (2009) ‘The problem of feeling in dance practice: fragmentation and unity’ In: Global Perspectives On Dance Pedagogy: Research And Practice. CORD Special Conference, De Montfort University Leicester, June 2009, Champaign, Ill., University of Illinois Press, pp. 130–138.

Leach, M (2012) ‘Even the thing I am…': Tadeusz Kantor and the Poetics of Being, PhD, DMU

Leach, M. (2012) ‘Tadeusz Kantor as Hunger Artist in the Poor Room of the Imagination’, Studia UBB Dramatica, Theatre Studies Magazine Issue 1/ 2012:Tadeusz Kantor and Polish theatre: presence and perspectives: 41–61.

Leach, M. (2013) Speaking a ‘Stammering Speech’: Tadeusz Kantor as ‘Poor’ Messenger, for Bodies of Failure issue of Somatechnics 3.1 (2013), Edinburgh University Press): 72–97.

Leach, M. (2013) L’objet pauvre de Kantor: une icône de la vérite / Tadeusz Kantor’s ‘Poor Object’ as Icon of Truth, in: Carole Guidicelli (ed.) (2013) Surmarionnettes et mannequins : Craig, Kantor et leurs héritages contemporains / Über-marionnettes and mannequins: Craig, Kantor and their contemporary legacies, Les éditions L’Entretemps/Institut International de la Marionnette: 173–191.

Leach, M. (In Press) ‘“Letting Tattered Clothing Sing”: Tadeusz Kantor’s Anatomy Lesson’ in Tadeusz Kantor’s Memory: Other pasts, other futures, ed. by Michal Kobialka & Natalia Zarzecka, London & Wrocław: Polish Theatre Perspectives.

Leach M. (In Press: 30 July, 2019) ‘Tadeusz Kantor and Modernism’ in: Magda Romanska and Kathleen Cioffi (eds) Theatermachine: Tadeusz Kantor, Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press.

Leach M. (2018) ‘Psychophysical what? What would it mean to say “there is no ‘body’ ... there is no ‘mind’” in dance practice?’, Research in Dance Education, 19, 2018 (2), pp.113–12.

View a full listing of Martin Leach's publications and outputs.

Research interests/expertise

My research is informed by my practical experience as a teacher of the Alexander Technique and applying these principles to working with dancers on performance problems. It currently focusses on philosophy and performance, developing ideas from my work both on the ideas of Tadeusz Kantor and F. M. Alexander in the context of Heideggerian and post-Heideggerian philosophy.

Areas of teaching

Anatomy, Physiology, Philosophy, Alexander Technique, Performance Theory


BA English and Drama, University of Hull, 1982

Professional Association of Alexander Teachers: Alexander Technique Teaching Certificate, 1989

PhD in Philosophy, Theatre and Visual Arts, DMU, 2012

Courses taught

BA Dance / MA Arts

Membership of professional associations and societies

Professional Association of Alexander Teachers (PAAT) 1984 – Professional association for training and CPD

Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) Alexander Technique 2014

Accredited register of health practitioners

Performance Philosophy International Network 2012– a research network in the field of performance philosophy

Professional licences and certificates

Alexander Technique Teaching Certificate, Professional Association of Alexander Teachers (PAAT)


Leach, M. ‘Even the thing I am …’: Tadeusz Kantor and the Poetics of Being (book proposal)

Door, V, Leach, M. and Whyman, R: Being and Performance: Explorations in Philosophy, Science and Practice for Actors, Dancers and Teachers (co-authored book proposal with Dr R. Whyman, University of Birmingham and Dr V. Door, Keele University, for Palsgrave MacMillan)

Hay, M. and Leach M.(Co-authored Article): ‘Things Taken as Obvious … Distort: The (Speaking) Dancer as Paradigm in the Question of Being’ for Journal of Artistic Research

Symposium (Organisers: L. Douse, University of Bedfordshire, M. Hay, DMU and M. Leach, DMU: From Heidegger to Performance  to be held at DMU in w/c 17 September 2018, confirmed guest speaker Professor Stuart Grant, Monash University, Australia.

Current research students

Marie Hay, PhD in Dance and Philosophy, Practicing speech in live contemporary dance: disclosing the dancer, 2nd Supervisor.

Marguerite Galizia, PhD in Dance (awarded DMU Graduate Bursary), Multiplying the Self: technology and solo choreographic practice. 1st Supervisor.