Petra Kuppers: Personal Statement Community Arts/Workshops Statement

The Olimpias Strands:

Moving Stories Mediated Performance Dance with a Difference


Personal Statement

Petra Kuppers

The installations, videos, workshops, performances and exhibitions I create with other artists challenge stereotypes by creating new sensuous encounters: we use the seduction of materiality, of texture, of living presence and mediated life in order to choreograph the viewer's experience, to allow new spaces for thinking and knowing to emerge. We celebrate difference, and believe passionately in disability culture's power as cultural expression, force towards social change, and a minority identity politics that can transform notions of beauty, dignity, and the place of art in everyday life.

My collaborative work centers around experiences between individually embodied life and social knowledge: works have addressed what it means to be disabled, be in pain, be stigmatised by a mental health diagnosis or experience mental distress, be poor, or be old, be a rural or urban dweller.

More recently, this desire to show the complexity and dignity of human life and its conditions has also opened up to installations that re-view spaces such as hospital waiting areas, car parks, corridors, National Parks, lake shores and wild heaths (Body Spaces, Landscaping Women, Earth Stories, Tracks). In this work, the interaction between the moving, living human body and the spaces surrounding it, everyday practices and small rituals, (new) media and presence are revealed and refigured.

An important aspect of my work is participation and agency: most of my work has community arts elements, and is created in collaboration, and in close dialogue with new audiences, often people unfamiliar with arts discourses and arts environments. The desire to connect with people underserved by traditional approaches means that I often utilise non-traditional spaces, public sites and (new) media dissemination outside conventional arts circuits.

Community Arts/Workshops Statement

After 20 years experience in participatory/community performing arts as a disabled movement artist, my main practice today is in the development of new creative approaches to movement, performance, creativity and collaboration, often, but not only, with disabled people as a cultural minority group. I explore time-based art forms, installations, video work, new media and their potential for community arts methods. These approaches share an emphasis on perception, on sensual engagement with one's body, and on an exploration of the relationship between space and power.

I believe that in order to have a voice, you need a place to speak from and a body to speak with. The sense of space and embodiment of many disabled people is compromised both by their impairments, and by social reactions to them. 'Dance with a Difference' focuses on this sense of personal space and body, and thus acts as a tool for personal empowerment, and, ultimately, for social transformation. I have used these methods in many workshops and sessions in dance and theatre education, dance and drama training and with professional artists in various art forms.

My work is influenced by the writings and work of Rudolf von Laban, by Steve Paxton's 'small dances', by feminist art and theatre theory, and by various somatic and healing modalities.

I initiated The Olimpias performance projects in 1998, as a testing ground where artists can work collaboratively towards new forms of understanding creative social practice.



Moving Stories: Use of Storytelling and Myth in Dance and Theatre Work

1980s and 1990s: Woyzeck, Vampyra, Frankenstein

2000s: Falling Fire production, Pontardawe Arts Centre; Workshops at various Universities; Landscaping Women Project Series, including: The Lady of the Lake, Trecastle; 2001: Landscaping, London, 2000, Move the Earth with Stories, Ystradgynlais/Brecon Beacons/St. Louis; Cardiff, Chapter, 2000 and Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon, 2001: WaterSkins; Mapping Journeys Dancevideo, 2000/2001, 2001-2003: Earth Stories, 2004: Tracks, Rhode Island, On the Edge of..., Rhode Island.

The Olimpias investigate folk-form, story telling and round-dancing in conjunction with Laban-based movement improvisation. We are using these movement methods to build up stories out of existing myths, or use our own autobiographical material to create transformative contemporary myths. In the work emerging out of Landscaping Women, in particular WaterSkins, we are also exploring contemporary performance and installation forms as ways to engage our audience.

Mediated Performance: New Media/Installations

Many people with painful or mental health impairments as well as many other socially excluded people cannot or do not wish to perform in conventional stage settings. The Olimpias therefore continue to develop alternative modes of communicating physical presence, personal dignity and beauty, and of creating sensual encounters between performers and audiences. The outcomes have included video-productions for gallery installations and photo exhibitions (see, for instance, Traces, Geometries and Fight), and site-specific installations (see, for instance, Body Spaces, as part of Digital Summer, Manchester). These explorations of new media and community arts have led to the creation of The Olimpias, a research project series, with projects such as Touch (2002), Body Provisional (2002) and Sirens (2003). See also the dragon-stories webpages, Ystradgynlais and Swansea.

Dance with a Difference: Mental Health

1996 - 2000, based in Briton Ferry/Pontardawe/Port Talbot with continuing groups, 2001: Swansea and Brecon Beacons

Weekly movement and creative expression work with people with severe and recurring mental health problems, with twice-yearly day schools in rural locations. The emphasis of this work is on creative self-expression and discovery of one's own sense of inner and outer space. This approach provides the way to a self-understanding based on self-worth and strength, and to partner- and group-work as empowered participants. This Dance with a Difference project was set up in collaboration with the Department of Continuing Education, Swansea University, the Mental Health Day Care Services, Social Services, Port Talbot, and the dance agency Tan Dance, Swansea.

Dance with a Difference: People with Cancer/Hospice Work

1997: Usk Hospice, Brecon; 2000 and 2001: Palliative Care Centre, Llanelli (co-funded by Swansea University), 2005: Otago Community Hospice, New Zealand

Movement work designed to enhance well-being, work with the sensuous aspects of our moving body, and to stimulate an awareness of the richness of the body. We work with sound, vibrations, and other stimuli relying on touch. The project in Llanelli is a collaboration with a yoga practitioner and a creative writing artist, and the New Zealand project focused specifically on intercultural contact.

Dance with a Difference: People in Pain

1996: Rubicon, Cardiff; 1998: Theatre Brecon; 1999 -2001: Fight, Toynbee Studios, London; 2003- 2005: workshops, Rhode Island, 2005

Workshops and residencies with people with painful conditions and impairments. The work is similar to the hospice projects, but is augmented by a search for potential sharings of different body experiences. This sharing aims both at other participants, but also at the relationship between audiences and performers. We are exploring the use of video to capture the enriching 'differences' of the painful body, and the multiplicities of embodiment.


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