Tag Archives: Jess Curtis

Jess Curtis Celebrates Gravity’s 15th Birthday

24 Jan

Counterpulse and Jess Curtis are joined at the hip, but the new location is not yet ready to celebrate this association, so Rita Felciano and I watched Curtis and four associates Friday evening December 11 at The Grand Theater on Mission.  The ground has been denuded of its seats;, it possesses a good bar at the lobby’s right lobby with adequate toilet facilities up some steep stairs. The flat space behind a voluminous curtain had seats in a circle,  along the sides, and the performance was marked by a photographer constantly loping in and out of the action, with screens both on the upper left wall as well in the expected place, smack in front of us.

Curtis performed with his frequent colleagues, Claire Cunningham from Scotland and Jorg Muller from Germany.  As always they did themselves proud, Cunningham in a dialogue with Curtis in the opener, then Curtis and Muller in their white-coated, pseudo-scientific experiments with tennis balls, a section where both men progressively shed their clothing with Curtis winding up nude in a  dialogue with a fully-clothed young woman.

Curtis finished the program with a mesmerizing display of varying aluminum pipes being swung into orbit by Jorg Muller, the light glinting on them, inviting the sensation of swinging with one or another of the safely-secured hanging metalics . [One could imagine how deadly one might be if the securing line broke!].  About mid-way in the slowing swings, Cunningham’s voice raised majestically,with the pipes still gleaming in diminishing circles, the atmosphere suddenly seemed transcendent. It was another one of Curtis’ magical capacities.

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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.

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.