Jess Curtis/Gravity: A Profile

Written By ArtBurst Team
December 5, 2016 at 7:12 PM

January 19, 2011 Interrogating the gravitational imperative. Finding and losing ground in a swinging duet. Falling in love. Unfinishing the body. Touching in public, in private, in a way that makes us human. Forging symmetry that un-genders and de-eroticizes even the naked body. Roller skating in a fat suit. Arcing prosthetics, bodies both organic and inorganic. The virtuosic, the banal. Just a sampling from Jess Curtis/Gravity’s oeuvre from the past several years — not only is this the stuff of dance and theater, but of bodily life. It gravitates to Miami next week, for several performances and workshops as well. Founded by performer and choreographer Jess Curtis in 2000, Jess Curtis/Gravity is a mixed-ability, interdisciplinary, cross-genre performance company committed to body-based art that explores issues of substance, while remaining relevant to a broad popular audience. With award-winning work that ranges from more traditional dance to dance-theater, cabaret-like performance, and movement experiments that resemble visual art installations, Curtis, who splits his time between San Francisco and Berlin, is not only committed to aesthetic innovation, but also to art education and an intervention in critical discourses on social life. Fallen, one of Curtis’ early evening-length works, which received the Fringe First Award (in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival) in 2002 and the Isadora Duncan Award for Best Ensemble Performance in 2003, employed dance, theater, and acrobatics to play with the body’s relationship with gravity and falling, both literally and figuratively. In 2005, Curtis choreographed Levels of Perception and Catch, two aerial pieces created with mixed-ability dancers for Blue Eyed Soul Dance Company in Shrewsbury, England. That same year, utilizing an eclectic performance vocabulary similar to Fallen, Curtis explored tactility, “one of the most basic of human experiences,” in his international production of Touched: Symptoms of Being Human. Joined by Italian dancer Maria Francesca Scaroni, one of Curtis’ chief collaborators since 2004, Jess Curtis/Gravity embarked on a series of movement experiments from 2007-2010 in The Symmetry Project. Presented as mixed media installations in a variety of settings, including gallery spaces and site-specific locations, The Symmetry Project is a highly structured duet with an improvisational score. Performed by the naked Curtis and Scaroni, this series examined notions of strength, vulnerability, balance, and the symbiotic relationship between bodies that, much like in everyday life, are in constant negotiation. Another notable mixed-ability work is Curtis’ 2007 Under the Radar, which received Isadora Duncan awards for Choreography, Music/Text, and Ensemble Performance in 2008. An exploration of virtuosity, Under the Radar featured an international cast portraying a motley crew of characters that co-mingle in a dingy cabaret called “Lost and Found.” A particularly breathtaking section of Under the Radar includes an intricately choreographed trio of dancers with crutches, whose prosthetics are utilized as inorganic bodily extensions that enhance each performer’s dancerly capacities. While this brief list only mentions a few of Jess Curtis/Gravity’s highlights from the past decade, one cannot help but be impressed by the range of performance techniques employed by a single company.

Jörg Müller and Jess Curtis; Photo credit:

On January 28 and 29, Jess Curtis/Gravity’s Dances for Non/Fictional Bodies will enjoy its Florida premiere at Inkub8 in Wynwood for the 11th annual danceAble event within WinterFest, presented by Tigertail Productions and the Florida Dance Association. Dances for is an international collaboration conceived and directed by Curtis, created and performed by Clare Cunningham, Jörg Müller, Scaroni, David Toole, Jess Curtis, and dramaturg/provocateur Guillermo Gomez-Peña, with original score by Matthias Herman. This interdisciplinary performance project features a stage filled with a myriad of seemingly abandoned objects, a circus-like act, some Debbie Gibson karaoke, a bit of strip tease, grad-school book reading…you get the picture — or not, which could be the point. Undermining the binaries of fiction/nonfiction, abled/disabled, ugly/beautiful, Dances for builds on Curtis’ previous work by challenging traditional notions of virtuosity, capacity, bodily coherence, and (ab)normality. Between the company’s track record for creating work that is both highly entertaining and rigorously intellectual, and the impressive cast of artists from Germany, France, Italy, Scotland, and the United States, this aesthetically and philosophically ambitious project is bound to enthrall even the most jaded of audiences. As a dance scholar interested in companies that include differently shaped and abled bodies, I’m particularly intrigued by Curtis’ incorporation of “disability” not as a categorical distinction that differentiates “abled” from “disabled,” but as simply another choreographic choice to explore the articulations, potentialities, and multiplicities of the human form. I believe that one of the most socially productive aspects of Curtis’ work is the suggestion, through performance, that there is no standard bodily form, but a myriad of corporeal possibilities and variations. In Critical Moves: Dance Studies in Theory and Politics, Randy Martin explains that because dance is “a bodily practice that figures an imagined world and a momentary materialization through performance of social principles that otherwise remain implicit,” it “can be drawn on to re-think conventional views of [bodily] politics as well.” Jess Curtis/Gravity clearly participates in this tradition of thinking dance, dance that does the critical work of showing the audience how to comprehend the body, or bodies, differently. From January 24 to 29, Gravity’s process will be taught, discussed, and performed at Inkub8, 2021 NW 1st Pl., Miami. Workshops begin next Monday and go through Wednesday, 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. (single class $15; call 305-310-8080); a talk with Curtis is on Wednesday at 8:00 p.m., and the two concerts are on Jan. 28 and 29 at 8:00 p.m.; tickets available at the door or at, cost is $25 general, $18 student/senior, 65 and up.

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