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Charli Brissey (Assistant Professor – Dance)

Charli Brissey is an interdisciplinary artist, writer, and teacher who works choreographically with various technologies and materials and is dedicated to guiding students to become their most authentic artistic selves.

DAY 27, 2020 by Charli Brissey

Invested in movement practices to illuminate the role of the nonhuman in formation-practices of self and material environment, Charli talks about art, teaching, and learning in our new reality.

What does it mean to you to be an artist in these times?
I keep returning to two things I think artists have the potential to be brilliant at: resiliency and imagining new worlds…over and over and over again. So for me, being an artist in this current moment is about responsibility, deep listening, collaboration, and using whatever methods or disciplines we are inside of to lean towards the future and create new possibilities for existence beyond what we currently have in front of us. As someone who identifies as a white, queer, non-binary artist, for me this means reflecting on my my own responsibilities and complicity within the systems of power and oppression I am a part of. I draw a lot on science fiction as a method of organizing new systems and spaces outside of cis-patriarchal white supremacist models, and am indebted to many Black artists and writers, such as Octavia Butler, alexis pauline gumbs, and jess pretty, for laying the framework to do such work. In my own research this is currently taking the form of dance, writing, and film projects, all of which have various collaborators I mostly engage with over the internet. I believe now more than ever that we no longer need brilliant solo artists, and what gets us through this moment is thinking and making together in many different ways and across many different scales.

What inspires you as a performer/collaborator/teacher?
People who are hungry for ideas and mobilizers of change inspire me, whether it’s students, other artists, colleagues, friends, etc. When I see someone take in new information and let themselves be changed by that information, I find that invigorating. Even more so when those new realizations lead to direct action and personal transformation. I am also very inspired by watching people form arguments for something they believe in.

What is special about Michigan?
My research is truly interdisciplinary and my career trajectory looks nothing like any of my colleagues. I’m grateful to have that space here, and I think that trust and freedom to forge new paths is a unique part of the culture here at Michigan.

How have you adapted your artistic practice during the pandemic?
Since part of my research and creative work already involves video and digital technologies, I’m lucky to have been able to continue sharing my recent work through film festivals and virtual formats during the Covid-19 pandemic. Dance-based projects have been less straightforward. I’ve been working this summer on a new evening length piece with an MFA candidate in the Dance Department, Eli Rosario, and it’s been a very different process than we’re used to. Our first rehearsal we walked down to the river and did some socially-distant improvisational scores in Cedar Bend Park, which of course got some strange looks and hollers from the kayakers and tubers floating down the Huron. I just keep saying to my collaborators “I’m not really sure how to do this. Let’s just try things and whatever it is, it is?” This moment definitely changes how we think about moving and making collaboratively, and it’s been helpful to slow down and work from a more internal framework. I’ve been thinking a lot about adrienne maree brown’s ideas around fractals, and the ways in which “how we are at the small scale is how we are at the large.” This has helped me contextualize the ways in which smaller, slower, and more subtle movement practices are by no means “lesser than” the more explosive and large-scale movement we are accustomed to physicalizing with groups of other bodies in space. It is my hope that once spaces do open up safely for us all to come back and dance together in larger ways, we can do so with new information we’ve acquired through smaller internal investigations.

How are you incorporating social justice issues into your work?
Interrogating issues of power, access, and identity have always been central to my research between choreography and technology. I think a lot about infrastructure and design as forms of choreography, and how the systems we build and engage with are never neutral as they often claim to be. This varies in scale from structures of class room discussion, to policy-making, to algorithms and digital platforms. In the reverse direction, I think embodied and/or choreographic research gives us specific strategies to develop more inclusive models that fundamentally support difference and long-term sustainability. So, while some of the questions I’m asking in my research these days are specific to this current moment in time, issues of social justice have always been a foundational drive to why I make work at all. Specifically, the current project I am working on approaches dance as a form of time-travel, and explores various ways in which the act of dancing and making collaborative choreography among marginalized bodies can provide us with embodied strategies for pursuing pleasure, healing, and long-game survival across species and technologies.

How are you approaching teaching this fall? Adaptations? Unexpected opportunities?
I’m approaching teaching this fall as a huge experiment, to be honest. There has been so much grief in the dance community, rightfully so, around lost shows, premieres that never got to happen, missing live dance and being close to other bodies. That grief is real, however I think I’ve grown tired of feeling like everything now has to be oriented around limitations: what we can’t do, what’s not allowed, what’s been taken away, etc. So, I’m doing my best to focus classes on what we can do, what is possible now and what we maybe hadn’t thought of before because we didn’t have to. For example, instead of orienting class around live choreography showings at the end of the semester, we may create interactive online dances, videos, or experimental archives of some sort. Instead of physical exhaustion and burnout, we’re going to talk about rest and resilience. There’s such a grind culture to academia that I’ve never felt is sustainable or even all that beneficial, so I’m also thinking of this moment as a time we can re-evaluate what care looks like, what we all truly need and how to give one another space to ask for it.