Crip/Mad  Archive Dances

Image Description of main image above: A video still from the Crip/Mad Archive Dances documentary. Present day dancers moving in front of and with an archival black-and-white video of a round dance.  A subtitle reads “danced in front of the projection, many of us with psychiatric experiences ourselves.” 

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.  A 35-min long experimental documentary (2024) is one of the core outcomes of the project.

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, and had multiple realizations and ways of being in the world.  It is also at the center of Petra's 2023/2024 Guggenheim Fellowship. Here are some examples of engagements:

A performance installation/immersion in the stacks happened in the Jerome Robbins Dance Archive, NYPL, Lincoln Center, New York City, May 3 2023, 6.30pm. 

An in-process version of the 35 mins experimental documentary of the project screened as a workshop at York University, Toronto, May 26 2023, as part of an Eco Soma graduate intensive. 

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)

In October 2023, Petra presented an interactive Crip/Mad Archive Dances performance lecture with snippets of the documentary at EMPAC, the Experimental Media and Performance Arts Center, at Rensselaer in NY, and her visit also included a community procession and Crip Drift at the The Sanctuary for Independent Media.

In January 2024, Petra visit with AXIS Dance Company in Berkeley,  California, for a week-long artist-in-residence, garnering additional video material for the documentary.

In May/June, Petra will be a fellow at the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in Pasadena, California, and she will run informal open workshops/participatory performances in the Gardens.

A glimpse of Crip/Mad Archive Dances live community performance actions

Excerpt of one 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.

Crip/Mad Archive Dances: An Experimental Documentary. 35 mins, 2024

How do disabled and mad people survive, dance, insert their differences in a world full of stigma? How do we live through bodymindspirit experiences of alienation and pain? This experimental documentary charts disability culture archives and embodied gestures of survival and creative expression. It draws on community with human and more-than-human others: media clips as performance gifts, archival footage from dance archives, environmental embedment and grounding in trees, water, desert and lakes. Together, we dance, and spring our binds.

Please note:
This experimental documentary shares instances of medical incarceration including insulin violence. It offers survivor testimonies of artful and agency-full reclamation.
The film is fully subtitled in English.
A full audio-description track is available on SoundCloud, at
The documentary uses 'crip' and 'mad' as in-group signifiers, aware of stigma and histories.

Excerpt from the Crip/Mad Archive Dances experimental/community media documentary 

A 4 minute clip from an approximately 35 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.

A few stops of the full, 35 mins documentary:

April 9-11 2024: International Screendance Festival at the Salt Lake Film Society 

April 6 2024: Innovations in Disability and Dance: Reaching Back, Moving Forward. National Dance Educators' Organization day-long conference (virtual)

PDF of a publication that emerged from the Crip/Mad Archive Dances:

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 

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)?

Score Days: 

Sample 2024 Crip/Mad Archive Dances:

presentation at PSi #29 (Performance Studies international), at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in Collaboration with LIFT (the London International Theatre Festival)

Disability and Dance: Reaching Back, Moving Forward. National Dance Educators' Organization day-long conference

Camargo Foundation, Cassis, France: workshop screening of project video

UC Berkeley, California: workshop screening of project video

AXIS Dance Company: week-long artist-in-residence, garnering additional video material

Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens, participatory performances 

Sample 2023 Crip/Mad Archive Dances:

Hour-long presentation at Dance/USA 2023 Virtual Conference

EMPAC/Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute/Sanctuary for Independent Media residency.

Disability Culture Stumbling with History: Eco Soma Methods. Keynote Provocation for the Dance Studies Association - New Mobilities "on the turn"? Symposium, London, UK

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

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

Keynote as the McAndless Distinguished Professor at Eastern Michigan University: "Disability Histories: Arts-Based Methods, Archives and Futures"

Sample 2022 Crip/Mad Archive Dances:

University of Colorado Colorado Springs, Theatre/Dance Program

Western University, Canada, Knowledge Creation through Performance residency

final public presentation as part of the Fellows' Symposium, New York Public Library Dance Division

Crip/Mad Archive Dances video day, Duderstadt Video Performance Studies, University of Michigan

Sample 2021 Crip/Mad Archive Dances:

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 their lines of inquiry. 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.