Jess Curtis at Counterpulse on Mission December 13

15 Jan

If my memory is accurate Jess Curtis has been an intrinsic part of the formation of Counterpulse, the innovative space on Mission Street near Ninth, soon to be vacated in favor of 80 Turk Street, yet another gritty neighborhood. The Turk Street location, however, promises the permanency and the challenges of ownership.

My first experience of Jess Curtis was Ice/Car/Cage with Keith Hennessey in the parking lot near the one-time Brady Street space, which has housed Yahuda Maor’s activities in San Francisco, Christine Elliott teaching there, followed by Kristy Keiffer, until a battle ensued because she lacked a contract. The space was lost to dance, though Keiffer was able to commence her current sojourn at Dance Mission.

Curtis and Gravity, his production unit, used to have late winter/early spring seasons at Counterpulse, but now early winter seems to be a norm. Since he splits the year with Berlin, I suspect that winter in San Francisco is preferable temperature wise, and the local season seems to be more sparsely inhabited that springtime. At any rate this year’s offering, The Dance That Documents Itself, ran December 4-14, and I saw the evening performance December 13. Though a cold required my leaving during intermission, the prior proceedings were vintage Curtis.

While I wouldn’t put The Dance That Documents Itself in the same category as Under The Radar or Ice/Car/Cage, Curtis provided us with two remarkable young artists in the person of Swedish-born Dag Anderson and Abby Crain. Curtis himself, bare-footed, like his colleagues, started out in non-descript costuming, walking around the stage space and beginning to verbalize what his feet, legs, arms, and head were doing, i.e. “Now I stretch my arms in two directions, one front and one back as I walk sideways.” I don’t know if he actually said those words, but you get the gist. He does so elegantly, matter-of-factly, of those two descriptions can be characterized together effectively. The verbalization and movement phenomenon I had witnessed with Tandy Beal nearly two decades previously, but it was a new practice with Curtis.

He was joined by Abby Crain and Rachael Dichter, who, unfortunately, was given a role over-shadowed by Crain responding to Curtis’ directions. These directions included Crain and Anderson, who had been posturing like a youth of sub-normal intelligence. Curtis asked Crain to do something and, most of the time, she did so. Several times, however, she said “No.” In this process, Smart Phones were present, creating a small pool of solitude and inattention. Crain was asked to climb on Curtis’ shoulder [I hope I remember correctly], part of the quiet requests and compliances, but clearly spectacular. No running, jumping and a heist on the shoulder or in the air like the climax of a balletic pas de deux, but no less engrossing.As Crain reached the position in the small box-like stage space, the act of balance and slight shiver of the legs as the feet curved over the shoulder blades and her hips adjusted the torso to the safest possible stance, vulnerability became an object lesson. Clearly there had been previous rehearsal, but the feat was clearly testimony to the uniqueness of any given performance.

What followed was an encounter between Anderson and Crain, facing each other, moving but not touching, their bodies like two commas or cashews with locomotive skills. When
they touched, they proceeded to roll or toss themselves when standing close. It was an extraordinary passage if a trifle lengthy, stamina and skill rampant.

A video sequence followed with Jess Curtis on a bike, helmeted and coggled with a video camera peddling around the south of Market area once dotted with spaces devoted to experimental performance pieces, including the John Sims space on Mission near South Van Ness and Brady Street and the parking lot where Ice/Car/Cage made its indelible impression. An unusual memory lane segment, it also marked Counterpulse move to its Turk Street venue. Curtis employed the critical mass vehicle and up=to-the-minute technology to mark the dance documenting itself. Point registered.

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