Interviews/Practice Reports

The National Endowment for the Arts interviewed me on disability culture, community performance, my Diver Beneath the Street poetry collection, and wider art practices (2024)

"NEA: You say that you're grounded in disability culture method. Can you describe what that means to you and how that manifests in your work?

KUPPERS: Disability culture methods means, for me, that I'm always trying to come from the place of a question. Who's not in the room, and how can we have more people in the [real or virtual] room? That core question characterizes to me what disability culture is about. I, and the group of people I work with, always think about whoever “we” are as provisional. The kind of ways in which we communicate are provisional. We're not trying to come up with best practices. Instead, we're trying to experiment toward more access for more of us, toward more open futures. For me, that meant that my first art practices beyond these student experiments were Dance with a Difference, where I’ve danced with people who also had significant chronic pain. I danced a lot with people in hospice, in the last months of their lives – hand dances, skin dances, small vibrational work of presence and joy."

Voyage Michigan interviewed me about the relationship between my performance practice and my Diver Beneath the Street poetry collection (2024)

"The Diver Beneath the Street collection emerged when I couldn’t work in my usual ways, i.e., being with people, creating performances together, and engaging in somatic work that allows us to explore pain and joy in new ways in our body, mind, and spirits. For much of 2020 and some of 2021, we all were in lockdown: thrown back into our own homes, often small apartments, segregated and afraid of one another and of what the outside world would bring to us. ... (so we invented Turtle Disco and)

"Turtle Disco is now both in-person (for small movement and writing events, masks very welcome), and online (for instance, for weekly Starship Somatics sessions online through Movement Research: going on meditative movement experiences together, diving into the soil or soaring to other planets). Many of these online experiences — using our imagination to walk, move, and fly — are part of the Diver Beneath the Street collection."

Here is an in-depth interview about my dance practice, the Olimpias, and the birth of Turtle Disco at Stance on Dance: Imaginative and Alternative Dance Ecologies (2023)

"The Olimpias started about 25 years ago in Wales. As a disabled person in Germany, opportunities were hard to come by. Now there are people making disability dance in Germany, but for me at the time, I didn’t feel like there were a lot of openings. When I was 24 years old I moved to Britain and became part of the disability culture there. I worked as a community dance artist in rural Wales for 10 years, mainly with mental health system survivors, with people in the last months of their lives in hospices, and with people in significant pain. I developed a form called Dance with a Difference, very similar to what I’m doing now, as a way of inviting more people into improvisational delight."

For a different kind of insight into my working practices, here is an interview/discussion of my queer/eco/arts teaching (2021)

Disability Dance: The Power of Difference: a conversation between Petra Kuppers and Sydney Erlikh. Part of X Dance Festival, Finland. Full Video of the Conversation. (2021)

Essay about our drifting performance practice, co-written with Stephanie Heit, in Ecotone Magazine.

Community Arts/Dance: A PBS documentary segment about my community dance practice

And for something quite different: a poetry/performance cross-over, from the Academy of American Poet's Poem-A-Day series: Forest Starships (August 2023)

Even more different: Weird Factoid: "10 Craziest Professors" honor on Fox News

In 2019, Petra was publicly named as one of the "10 Craziest Professors' by the Young America's Foundation, and the syllabus of her undergraduate Eco/Queer/Feminist Art Practices course (Women and Gender Studies, University of Michigan)  was read out and commented on (lesbian dance!) on Fox News by conservative media host Tucker Carlson. It feels weird to post the link to a conservative youtube video here, but so many people have taken great pleasure and delight from this weird counter 'honor;' I happily imagine some Fox-viewing young person thinking 'oh wow, maybe university is for me, after all;' and I am glad to be in the company of the professors who are named here with me, so here it is

Dance/Performance/Somatics Reviews

Here is an engagement with my 2021 online Movement Research/MELT workshop, Home Launch. Fabulous to see this discussed – it is so hard to find words for the experience of these ecosomatic choreo-dreams. Catherine Wagley in ‘Bodies that Move: On Process Over Product,’ in CARLA:

“Typically, Movement Research, a dance and movement laboratory, hosts MELT workshops each summer and winter in person in New York City, but the pandemic forced programming online, making it accessible to those of us located elsewhere. Early on in her MELT class, which she titled Home Launch, artist, disability culture activist, and scholar Petra Kuppers asked us to make a “nest” as a launch pad for the dream journeys, trances, and intuitive collaborative dances we’d undertake throughout our time together—a week of one-hour-a-day meetings. My nest was a yoga mat on a carpet, but others appeared to curl up on beds or couches.

Kuppers has a calm, comfortable moderating style, the result of years of practice. The Olimpias, the performance group she cofounded in Wales in 1996, often invites the public into their performances (“there isn’t really an audience position,” Kuppers has said of The Olimpias’ actions; “you kind of step into it and you do it”). The group calls itself a “disability performance artist collective”—Kuppers dances from a wheelchair—and creates workshops and opportunities for those with cognitive, physical, or emotional differences to move together.

In leading Home Launch, Kuppers made no assumptions about what a body could or should be able to do, an approach that invited all of us in attendance to similarly toss off expectations of ourselves and others. She also made sure to let us know that she had borrowed certain exercises and terms from others—friends, past collaborators, and influences, including performer and choreographer Ishmael Houston-Jones and scholar Donna J. Haraway. Such acknowledgment grounded our time together in something bigger, communal, and complex; threads of connection ran off-screen, beyond the virtual space we temporarily shared, weaving an amorphous web pregnant with information that we, the participants, could plot our way through at our own speed. …

I have found it helpful over the years to think of art as something that is for rather than about life, a tool for living, though not in a self-improvement way. While highly-stylized self-care products have to provide feel good solutions, however short-lived, art needn’t improve anything in any quantifiable way. Instead, art can help to pick aspects of life apart, or make us feel differently. This can be hard to remember at times, given its status as a constructed, exclusive commercial object—though easier to conjure while lying on the floor in your own living room with your eyes closed.

During one of the dream journeys Kuppers led, she invited us to imagine our blood flowing. Imaginary blood didn’t have to be red, she pointed out, and I imagined my blood the exact color of my nearby yellowish-gold couch, picturing liquid pumping through its worn cushions, and delighted at how in touch I felt with my home, in an irreverent, unstructured sort of way. More delightful still was the fact that others had also sought out this amorphous, weird kind of togetherness—here we all were, “in our bodies,” and in our nests, mostly just to explore what it meant to be here.” (Catherine Wagley, CARLA, Bodies that Move: On Process Over Product 2021, 23: 18/19) (Click carla > Issue 23 )

An image of Petra on a laptop screen in front of a radio mic

Podcasts with Eco Soma

Click here for a podcast interview: Art After Nature series editors Caroline Picard and Giovanni Aloi speak with Petra Kuppers about her Eco Soma book. (2022)

And here is a PBS radio interview about Eco Soma, about being attentive to this world, about pain and kindness, and about disability culture: How Do We Experience The World Around Us? ‘Traverse Talks’  (2022)

And another podcast: being interviewed by Mary Clare from Full Ecology in the How it Looks from Here series (2022)

Here is an interesting conversation series, a Women in Education series, in honor of Women's Equality Day (2022)