Worlding: XR Performance Improvisation Gathering

Petra Kuppers, School of Music, Theatre & Dance; Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design; College of Literature, Science, and the Arts

Collaborators: Charli Brissey, SMTD; Mary Bunch, Assistant Professor in Cinema and Media Arts, York University; Dolleen Tisawii’ashii Manning, interdisciplinary artist and member of Kettle and Stoney Point First Nation; Dr. Rebecca Caines, Assistant Professor in Creative Technologies at York University; Bhumi B. Patel, director of pateldanceworks; Alexis Riley, graduate student, SMTD; Laura Murphy, Ph.D. student, Design Science, CoE

In the Fall of 2023, I am bringing queer South Asian dance artist Bhumi Patel to U-M – she is a fellow Dance/USA fellow with me and this money associated with this grant will fund her visit with me, and my visit later in the Fall with her in Oakland, California. We want to come together to explore queer improvisation from our relative positions: she, from decolonial dance perspectives, me, from disability culture and community performance perspectives.

We have now assembled a team of people we’d like to work with for our UM residency, including Charli Brissey, videodance maker and Assistant Professor at UM and a number of other post-docs and PhD students at UM, and three outside guests, all specialists in community performance and Indigenous/decolonial work: Rebecca Caines, an Assistant Professor of Creative Technologies at York University, as well as Dolleen Tisawii’ashii Manning and Mary Bunch, also from Canada, who have recently created exciting VR work based around Anishinaabe origin myths and St. Lawrence River microscopic creatures.

Together, we hope to explore affordances of contemporary VR work that allows us to show up as dancers and storytellers in new ways, bringing more depth to our work, and setting ourselves up for new audiencing opportunities. This later query, audiencing, is one of the most significant boundaries of VR technology right now: most VR is conceived as a solo exploration, and the integration of real life movement in community and VR world-building is at stake in many contemporary applications. We hope that our gathering can help us push that boundary a bit, and to allow us to learn new ways of combining creativity with these emerging (publicly available) technologies.

We also want to explore the notion of worlding, myth-making, and different knowledge structures in Anishinaabe, white settler, disability culture and Desi storytelling in dance. We hope to spend two days out in nature, likely at the lakes out in Dexter, and one day in the Video Performance Studio, utilizing 360 degree cameras and sound equipment (a mélange of tech from UM’s maker spaces and brought by Rebecca Caines, who has been using this equipment in her community work with Indigenous communities). A number of post-graduate researchers and PhD students from my Speculative Embodiment working group will join us.

We hope to emerge from this collaboration with a presentation we can share at the next Dance Studies Association meeting, as well as create a 3-D environment experiment that we can share with fellow dancers in a follow-up meeting in Oakland, California later in the Fall (funding provided by Bhumi’s and my Dance/USA grants).

Bios: My own background for this collaboration is my ongoing exploration of worlding and visioning in disability culture contexts: using dancevideo and other technologies to create forms of co-presence and mythic immersive explorations. For example, see my most recent collaboration with Charli Brissey, a 24 minute long dancevideo called Starship Somatics: video at I am a disability culture activist, a wheelchair dancer, and a community performance artist. I ground my self in disability culture methods, and use ecosomatics, performance, and speculative writing to engage audiences toward more socially just and enjoyable futures. I am a current Dance/USA fellow in recognition of my disability culture dance work.

Bios of my collaborators: Dr. Mary Bunch is an Assistant Professor in Cinema and Media Arts. She is also affiliated with Theatre Studies, the Graduate Program in Critical Disability Studies, and Vision: Science to Applications (VISTA). She earned her PhD in Theory and Criticism at Western University in 2011. Dr. Bunch’s teaching and research interests include interdisciplinary and collaborative queer, critical disability, feminist studies and critical theory, research creation and arts-based methodologies. She works at the intersection of the political imagination and its visual / sensory expressions. Her current project on Ecstatic Freedom engages theoretical, activist, and arts epistemologies as these re-envision the forms that democratic participation, political belonging and justice take.

Dolleen Tisawii’ashii Manning is an interdisciplinary artist, scholar, and member of Kettle and Stoney Point First Nation. Her research interests include Anishinaabe ontology, studio visual arts, phenomenology, critical theory, indigenous imaging practices, mnidoo interrelationality, epistemological sovereignty, and the debilitating impact of settler colonial logics. By tracing the fragile undulating threads of Anishinaabe ontologies found in everyday practices, she seeks to better understand the ways that Anishinaabe knowledge systems resist canonical academic values and textual dependent modes of address. Using various methodologies, including storytelling, textual analysis, and community-engaged research creation, she brings these ways of knowing into rigorous debate with contemporary discourses in continental philosophy and critical theory. This research takes up what she terms Mnidoo-Worlding; along with Anishinaabe philosophies and cultural practices related to imaging, dreams, visions and their pathologization as hallucination in settler cultures.

Dr. Rebecca Caines is an Assistant Professor in Creative Technologies in the Department of Theatre and Performance at York University, in Canada. She is a socially-engaged artist working in sound art, performance, new media and installation, and she collaborates with a wide range of community partners in Canada, Australia, Northern Ireland, China and Europe. Her academic background is in Critical Studies in Improvisation, and Performance Studies. She was the director of the Regina Improvisation Studies Centre, one of the six sites of the “International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation” (IICSI). With Ajay Heble, she co-edited The Improvisation Studies Reader (Routledge 2015), and is working on a book on improvisation, community, and interdisicplinarity, for Temple University Press. She currently is leading the national art project “multiPLAY,” exploring digital engagement with improvising arts. Her work explores art and social justice, contemporary understandings of community, and the fragile promise of ethical connection offered through dialogic approaches.

Charli Brissey is an interdisciplinary artist, scholar, and teacher who works choreographically with various technologies and materials. This primarily includes bodies, cameras, language, instincts, and ecosystems. Their research integrates studies in feminist theory, technology, and science, and centers choreography as an invaluable methodology to research social-political-ecological phenomena. Brissey has been creating performances, installations, experimental videos, and written scholarship for over seventeen years, and has been presented in various galleries, conferences, film festivals, and performance venues nationally and internationally.

Movement artist and writer Bhumi B. Patel directs pateldanceworks and is a queer, desi, home-seeker, and science fiction choreographer (she/they). In its purest form, she creates performance works as a love letter to her ancestors. While Patel has trained in Western forms, she seeks to create movement outside of white models of dance at the intersection of embodied research and generating new futures, using improvisational practice for voice and body as a pursuit for liberation. Patel seeks liberation through dancing, choreographing, curating, teaching, and scholarship and attends to her desires to create nourishing community spaces. Bhumi has been a Lead Artist with SAFEhouse Arts, an Emerging Arts Professionals Fellow, and a Women of Color in the Arts Leadership through Mentorship Fellow. She has presented her research at the Dance Studies Association Annual conference, the Asia Pacific Dance Festival Conference, and the Popular Culture Association Annual conference and has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Life as a Modern Dancer, Contact Quarterly, and InDance.

Bhumi is a 2022-2023 Dance/USA Fellow. Making art is her way of tracing the deeply woven connections in which we live–past, present, future–as a way to build communities of nourishment and care.

We will be joined by post-doctoral scholar Alexis Riley (in the theatre department at UM). She is an interdisciplinary artist, scholar, and teacher working at the intersection of multiple academic fields: theatre, dance, and performance studies, feminist disability studies, and critical mad studies. Her research investigates the politics of mad and disabled embodiment. She is interested in how cultures identify and respond to mental and bodily difference, and how those differences are, in turn, represented in performances staged across time.

We will also be joined by various graduate students, including Laura Murphy, a Ph.D. student in Design Science at UM. Laura studies inclusive design, a people-focused perspective on design which accounts for the greatest amount of variation among people. She first explored the impact of inclusive and empathetic design processes through her work in disability design spaces. She also has experience in product design, manufacturing, and supply chain development across industries. She’s most interested in impacting how practitioners carry out design decisions so that the design outcomes help create a more inclusive world.