Jess Curtis Latest at Counter Pulse, May 26, 2013

8 Jun

Jess Curtis and Counterpulse are joined at the hip and in history;  the performing venue on Mission near Ninth got its start with Curtis and found its current location when programming new work out spaced the upstairs location on Divisadero Street.  Somewhere along the line, Jess Curtis discovered support could be had in Berlin and now he divides most of his time between San Francisco and that location reached by direct flight over the pole.

He’s a really interesting figure, not just because he has a shock of totally white hair and a matter of fact persona which his ideas totally subvert. The Berlin connection has enabled him to undertake projects with equally singular European performers. While the resulting collaborations are mostly theater, dance does make itself known somewhere during the episodes. His 2007 production Under the Radar earned three Izzie citations from the San Francisco Bay Area Isadora Duncan Dance Award Committee.

What was seen this year, May 24-26 at Counterpulse was a two-man enterprise with Jorg Muller titled Research Experiment #2.  Curtis and Muller, a compact, medium-sized man with shaved head and eloquent hands, appeared in white lab coats, soliciting audience members to be part of the experiment-devices were applied to register pulse, breathing and emotional responses to
24 exercises which Curtis said were shuffled each performance to help maintain spontaneity.

Dennis Nahat, showman extraordinaire, offered himself as one of the individuals receiving mechanisms in the ear and taped to a hand. On the white walls of the space, six lines of pulse registered their reaction.

Two or three of the twenty-four lodged themselves in my mind.  One included running, but the second included the two men exchanging blows from the cat of nine tails, or multiple leather strips held together at the handle, designed to beat an individual and to wound the flesh.This instrument, perhaps popular amongst sado-masochistic circles, was rendered against first Curtis’ back and then Muller’s, something like twenty increasingly strong strokes requiring the deliverer to brace himself before swinging and striking the recipient’s back.  Curtis’ responses were remarkably stoical facially, and Moller’s visually responsive.  The pulses of the six vaulted proportionately.  For myself, I suddenly felt myself witness to victims and descendants of The Middle Passage from Africa, and to the horrors of concentration camps anywhere.  It was also clear why the performance was limited to one weekend.

Those of us in the front row were given slips of paper from which to choose.  My lot was “Stillness,” which Curtis and Moller then interpreted.  There were four others and in turn the men gave the quality their vision.  Here the two men displayed distinct characteristics.  For Curtis it was movement, generalized and space covering, as if he was the ideator  relying on others to assist in specifics.  With Moller, it was form, near precision, tidiness, together providing an interesting package of execution.

The final movement involved a roving light set on the floor at the back wall, against which both men moved, their pace and attack increasingly frantic while that damned light flashed intermittently across the floor.  In the first row I felt sporadically attacked by the light;  with Curtis and Moller increasing their activity, I found myself closing my eyes in an effort to spare myself the onslaught.  The audience one step above probably didn’t have that difficulty, but if cringing was the aim of that final exercise, give Curtis and Moller 4.5 on the SAT.


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