Crip/Mad  Archive Dances

What it's all about: 

The Crip/Mad Archive Dances address disabled and mad presences in asylum spaces and in dance archives through participatory performances grounded in disability culture.

What is on this page:

This page is the development archive of the Crip/Mad Archive Dances, initially conceived in 2021/2022 as part of a New York Public Library Dance Research Fellowship. You can find here short videos giving you a glimpse of the experiential nature of the project, a publication on the project in Theater, as well as the developmental background and the history of the early score development. 

The project is ongoing. A recent performance installation/immersion in the stacks happened in the Jerome Robbins Dance Archive, NYPL, Lincoln Center, New York City, May 3 2023, 6.30pm. The longer 30+ mins video-in-process of the project recently screened as a workshop at York University, Toronto, May 26, as part of an Eco Soma graduate intensive. The final experimental documentary will be ready in early 2024.

An in-depth virtual community performance sharing was part of this three-part dance workshop:

July 26-28 2023, 11.30am-1pm ET, Movement Research MELT: Crip/Mad Archive Dances.

Who does your bodymindspirit honor when you move, sing, write? Who supports you in impersonal energetic embrace? Who reaches to you? To whom do you reach? Let's explore how we can enact gratitude for obscure archives, honor our own archival presence, and thrive in the life of one another. Let’s experience how historic investigations can help us in our own dancerly lives. We will use dance witnessing, gestures, durational pressure, movement transmission, divination procedures, doodling, and writing as tools to explore glimpses of crip/mad dancers of the past, to support all our presents and futures. All bodymindspirits welcome. (virtual)

You  can access below a video glimpse of the Crip/Mad Archive Dances live community performance actions, 2022

Excerpt of 1 score enacted in 2 different participatory performances, all tuning with a 1978 video clip from a dance session in a ward of the Bronx Psychiatric Center. The Olimpias/Petra Kuppers with two different sets of community participants. Shot at the Astor Gallery/Lincoln Center (September 2021), Duderstadt Center/Michigan (February 2022)

Audio Description of this clip:

Video Description: This 4-minute video excerpt from the hour-long Crip/Mad Archive Dances score shows first a grey box dance space, then a black box dance space, with two groups of people moving in front of a large-scale projection. The projection shows a 1978 video clip of a dance session at the Bronx Psychiatric Center, with different people moving in a circle dance – a clip found in the New York Public Library. The community dancers in front of the projection, some of whom have psychiatric experiences themselves, are tuning with the video, and with the score (which is supported through narration): they assemble into a circle, weave in figure-eights through the space, all in relation to the projected video image of dancers in a psychiatric ward.

Transcript of spoken words (excerpt from a longer performance):

As people are beginning to come together and help each other into the circle. Let’s do that ourselves, too. See if you can reach out to somebody else, in the circle, energetically, or physically, whatever feels comfortable, as you are dancing in your own circle. Some of you can see the screen, and some can not, and see how you can tune into that dance across time.

How does it feel to be in the community, in the collective, or respond to cues or not, to know the score or not know the score, to change it, to find different energies moving in, to find playfulness, how does it make you feel to be part of this? How does it feel in your bodymindspirit?

And slowly, slowly, you are bringing the circle to a different energy, still connected, and now you can each experience your own form of connection or disconnect, your desire to be in the circle or to stand aside. As you pay attention to what happens in your bodymindspirit as you are alone and not alone in the circle. Feeling the energies that come to us from far away. Feeling the energies that come to us from right here.

Feel what it might be like to be in a room where there is a locked door, feel what it might be like to have music and companionship to offer you bodily release. Some of us in the circle know what that feels like, and some of us listen to echoes, shadows, not knowing, but sensing.

With thanks to Chanika Svetvilas, Charli Brissey, and Sine Rofofsky. The project was made possible by a New York Public Library for the Performing Arts's Jerome Robbins Dance Division Dance Research Fellowship.

Here is a glimpse from the new experimental/community media documentary in progress (premiere at the International Screendance Festival at the Salt Lake Film Society, Feb 2024)

A 4 minute clip from an approximately 30 minute long experimental documentary-in-progress about embodied disabled and mad gestures in and out of the archive, in eco soma engagement with site, elements, and time. 

Video description: The excerpt opens on a slow drift over an old photograph of vegetation (the full documentary reveals this as part of the eco soma disability investigation of asylum memories). Then it switches to a round-dance: dancers in the present tuning with archival 1970s footage. After another drift over an asylum garden, Chanika Svetvilas, in a red-and-black striped sweater and hat, first faces the camera and then moves backward and forward against a pastel-colored outdoor wall, with a drawing of a ship at sea, and soil at the bottom of the screen. In a second community media contribution, Kym McDaniel, with a bright pink hat and warm clothes stands in a snowy garden, speaks, and then falls to her knees with a silent scream, fists shaking. We end on the asylum garden, with the camera panning to a human being at rest.

Below is the PDF of the first publication that emerged from the Crip/Mad Archive Dances, published in Summer 2022

Petra Kuppers. 2022. “Crip/Mad Archive Dances: Arts- Based Methods in and out of the Archive” in Theater, 52:2, pp. 66-77, doi 10.1215/01610775-9662255 

Crip:Mad Archive Dances in Theater.pdf

History of Project Development - Archives from 2021/2022

Participatory Actions at and around New York City's Lincoln Plaza, August and October 2021, January 2022.

After a day of work in the dance archives, tracking traces of disabled (crip) and mad dancerly lives, I'll offer an accessible dance score and movement ritual influenced by my finds which we can together enact outdoors, in public. 

What am I doing at the archives? 

Excerpt from my application:

"Crip/mad dramaturgies means excavating the creativity of disabled people in our cultural histories both within and without official archives. The realities of archival paucity, the few traces left by subjects deemed to have been mad or seen as disabled, also means that I embrace contemporary arts-based methods in humanities research, aligning myself with, for instance, Saidiya Hartman’s concept of critical fabulation as an archival intervention – a working method I also explored in The Anarcha Anti-Archive, where collaborators and I engaged Black studies and disability studies in our exploration of J. Marion Sims, the ‘father of US gynecology’ who experimented on slave women. At the NYPL, I hope to find surprising gems, celebrate disabled people in the oral history archive and beyond, and listen to how they narrate bodily and mental difference, and the changing bodyminds of dancers.

The methods of these intersected and ghosted history projects offer performance studies perspectives on medical or therapeutic industrial complexes, and engage intersectional perspectives on class, race, gender, sexuality and sanity in our life histories and our modes of expression. The project's core dramaturgical charge is to find ways to bring this research to bear on how we as disabled dancers see ourselves, each other, and our audiences as co-presences with creative force and energy. How do we share knowledges in ways that not only provide factual information, but allow for affective tracings that do not just see historical subjects as victims?


The library’s holdings will allow me to dive deep into dance’s archival traces of mental health difference, neurodiversity, and physical difference. A residency will also allow me to use the library’s surroundings as a staging ground from which to dance toward what might be missing in the archive (as I hope to spend some of my time in NYC organizing dance workshops with fellow disabled dancers)."

What can we do together (outdoors/indoors masked)?

Initial Score Days: 

(Crip/Mad Archive Dances will be part of various site visits throughout 2022 and 2023, check the events page for details).

Sample 2023 Crip/Mad Archive Dances:

York University, Toronto, May: workshop screening of 30+ min project video

Jerome Robbins Dance Archive, New York Public Library, May: live performance

January 31st, 2023: My keynote as the McAndless Distinguished Professor at Eastern Michigan University: "Disability Histories: Arts-Based Methods, Archives and Futures"

Sample 2022 Crip/Mad Archive Dances:

October 12-14, University of Colorado Colorado Springs, Theatre/Dance Program

November 17-19, Western University, Canada, Knowledge Creation through Performance residency

January 27/28 and January 31st 2022: final public presentation as part of the Fellows' Symposium, New York Public Library Dance Division

January 9th 2022: Crip/Mad Archive Dances video day, Duderstadt Video Performance Studies, University of Michigan


November 2nd 2021: Crip/Mad Archive Dances at Bennington College Dance Department, online

October 20th 2021, 7pm, Lincoln Center, Astor Gallery. We'll be using digitized video material from the archive in this indoor performance. Please wear comfy clothes for gentle moving, and bring your mask. If you are interested in participating, please email The Astor Gallery is accessible from the Amsterdam entrance.

October 15th 2021, 5.15-6pm, outdoors under the golden trees, at the Hyatt New Brunswick, plenary performance as part of Dance Studies Association's annual meeting: Galvanizing Dance Studies.  

A short report on this event: We ended up in a procession, with 50 people in a park, as the last rays of warm sunshine kissed us, with fall leaves settling on us from the trees that sheltered us, supported by earth and sky. Like last time, when Elisabeth Motley folded Augustine's hysteric choreographic trace into our circle, we had guests with movement contributions; Stephanie with a movement remembering touch in prep for electroshocks, Chanika Svetvilas with a memory of walking, and dance elder Halifu Osumare gifting us with a memory lineage of Fred Benjamin's jazz dance. It was rich ceremony.

First Full Score Day: August 19th 2021, 4.30pm (in person, outdoors), The Green, Lincoln Center, NYC (the green astro-turf-like but actually soy-based community playground on Josie Robertson Plaza, designed by Mimi Lien. Look for my scooter, with the yellow battery). 

An essay on this version of the Crip/Mad Archive Dances is forthcoming as an open-access online publication in Theater Magazine: Yale's Journal of Criticism, Plays, and Reportage, link will be posted here.

Interdependent Set-up, Try-out in Community: August 17th 2021, 7.00pm (in person, outdoors). Lincoln Plaza, NYC. Come out and help me find a site for our future actions, try out some initial score ideas with me. I'll bring a score based on three crip/mad ancestors that I have worked on in the past: Raimund Hoghe, Homer Avila, and (space and movement and) Vincent Van Gogh's painting of an Asylum Garden (at the bottom of this page, you can find two essays and one short story about these three ancestors, in case you want to prep a bit - but you don't have to!). 

A short report on this first version: We danced on the Green in honor of crip elders who have passed, and offered space for all of us to honor all our elders. We danced iconic moments from Homer Avila's and Raimund Hoghe's repertoires, and found movement and sanctuary in Vincent Van Gogh's painting of an asylum garden. Two wonderful dance artists ran the score with me, tried out sites, and had a mini-photo shoot (as the community participatory actions are so rarely documented): Kate Freer and Hettie Barnhill. Thank you, and thanks to the tiny community participant who did the score with us - in our final score moment, giving thanks to ancestors, she gladly gave thanks to her grandmother.

This project is part of Petra Kuppers' dance research fellowship at the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library, July to December 2021

Project Resources:

The project developed out of two essays and one short story, and the lines of inquiry emerging from them. The first essay is on Raimund Hoghe, transmission and disability culture, and the second on Homer David Avila and the crip relic. The surrealist short story is based on Vincent van Gogh's stay in an asylum.