Non/Fictional Bodies – A Geneaology (Jess Curtis)

Non/Fictional Bodies – A Geneaology (Jess Curtis)

A few years ago, I was speaking to my friend and colleague Keith Hennessy after he had attended a dance concert at the University where we were both teaching.  I asked him how the work had been and he replied, “It was like they were all choreographing for a fictional body that none of them had.”  This phrase struck me as a thoughtful analysis of a problem that runs throughout many aspects of society, and one that can be particularly strong in the practice of dance.  Many of us are making choices about our bodies on the basis of an imagination of a body that we want to have or think we should have and not in relation to the bodies that we actually do have.  At the same time many of us feel alienated from the bodies that we do have (the bodies that we are) because they do not meet certain societal ideals of what a body should be or do.

When I was a younger dancer I quickly learned that I shouldn’t get my heart set on any kind of career in ballet.  For the standards of traditional classical dance, only certain body types need apply.  I was pleased to find a world in modern dance where the boundaries were less narrow, where my bodily proportions and qualities did not preclude my participation. I joined the ranks of a post-Judson Church, post punk rock interdisciplinary dance company named Contraband where we all identified as misfits or refugees from straight white American normativity. The aesthetics of this world were more open.  We didn’t need to point our toes and we could have dyed hair and tattoos.  Somehow though the dancers in this milieu would still stop performing at 35.

In 1998 I was invited to France to help create a small nouveau cirque company, Cie Cahin-Caha, Cirque Batard. The French circus world opened a whole new set of possibilities.  The levels of virtuosic physical talent were astounding.  I met people that could do things I had never even thought of doing; beautiful young boys and girls in the prime of their physical prowess with the full support of the French government, literally flying through the air with the greatest of ease.  In the midst of these perfect toned and talented bodies though, I noticed many not-so-normal bodies; bodies that could do spectacular things precisely because they were too bendy, or had a big belly, or an extra thick neck or very short legs.  These performers often reveled in their physical differences because the range of sizes and shapes that they embodied created the variety (varieté) in the shows that they made.  This diversity of physicalities in the circus also creates a space for performers to remain active longer and later in their lives, evolving new performance possibilities as they age and their bodies change. The danger of not meeting expectations was still there though. More than one tiny voltigeuse acrobat I know has been abusively terrorized by her porteur partner for gaining 2 kilos over Christmas.

Toward the end of my French circus adventure I was invited to give a workshop in aerial dance for a physically inclusive dance company. Rachel Freeman, the director, had seen some of the aerial work that I had been part of in Cie Cahin-Caha’s production, raWdoG, and wondered if our work with ropes and harnesses could be taught to people with mobility impairments. This led to my facilitating a number of events In Europe and America involving the use of Contact Improvisation, Performance and Aerial Dance as teaching tools for persons with physical disabilities and mobility impairments. I found that working with bodies that are visibly other than ‘normal’ started to reframe my entire sense of what is beautiful. Peeling back my expectations of normalcy I was able to appreciate a broader diversity of possible expression of the human body. These teaching experiences created extremely interesting elements for the making of theatrical work.  For my next project I invited Claire Cunningham and Kaz Langley, two amazing performers with disabilities, to work with other artists who had more traditionally recognized abilities and examined the relation between virtuosity, ability and dis-ability.  Out of these questions came Gravity’s award-winning work, Under the Radar, and an ensemble of talented performer-collaborators who make up the core of the work you are here to see tonight, Dances for Non/Fictional Bodies.

At a certain point in this process I had to ask myself what I had at stake in all this. My own issues around physical diversity may not be so apparent. I still fall pretty squarely within the ranks of what some disability activists call the ‘Temporarily-Able-Bodied,’ or TABs, but as this slightly discomforting label points out, time eventually takes its toll on all of us. Our abilities, inabilities, and dis-abilities are constantly changing.  My body does not do what it once did.  When the youthful vigor of the body is waning, is it possible that my body has something else to offer in this performative exchange we are in?

Theories of the body and the body as the site of our consciousness abound. Our embodiment, our in-the-world-ness is the very stuff from which we make meaning on a daily basis.  The importance of our bodies as experience and how bodies are used to give or deny us access to the world cannot be over stated, whether it is a matter of what color my skin is, what kind of genitalia I have, or whether I move through space with the assistance of wheels or by my feet alone.  How we imagine our own, or other’s bodies to be, and how we experience the potential of what they could be, shapes nearly all of our relations. I hope that whichever part of this project you are seeing, the installation, the show, or the panel discussion, there is something transmitted from the diversity of our bodies (both the fictional and non-fictional ones) that moves, speaks to, or inspires your body to imagine itself more richly.

The Chalkboard Texts (Maria Scaroni)

The Chalkboard Texts (Maria Scaroni)

The board was primarily a site for the production of questions, aiming to
awaken in the reader/audience a state of questioning, as it found itself
gazing in multiple directions, decoding writing and actions enacted in the
performance arena.

In fact it became a perverted lecture where personal data and healing work
landed, intertwined with some overall dramaturgical concerns regarding the
work in its entirety. The urgency to sort of "title" the hallucinatory
journey we displayed with a reference to Spinoza, found in an article about
improvisation by Jan Ritsema, who is speaking about an improvisational set
up as place where it is possible "to reach a state of potentiality, a state of
non-productiveness." He also refers to improvisation as a border zone, in
which a certain power resides, because "it cheats in our means of navigation
and compass".

In my notes I found a square with words written inside:

Body=Whole=The entirety=This performative situation is a body. Now, said
this, of what affects is this body capable?

Plus some (now) indecipherable other words:

1) self mutilation = happy people exist in the collective imagination
2) seek of pleasure= in a desolated landscape we think about water
3) balance= misrecognition of death
4) exposure=ecstasy of simple gestures. Death is always in the picture.I
cannot tell yet if it will come in blue, red or grey.

On the board I actually wrote: 

"What can a body do? Of what affects is it capable?"

I then turned this philosophical question into a dialogue, a banal love
affaire. The scenario changes from a reflective reality to a fantasy, a mind
leap, a fiction the fat roller skater dreamer girl affords in her nerdy

She said.
"I respect Spinoza" He replied
"Me too! OMG!!! :o)
"Would you like a drink?"

Then looking at he space and simply describing what my projection was on my
colleagues actions, I would keep writing statements that continued the
affaire story, a sort of chain of fantasies and projections.

They run out of space
He hides in exposure
She sets borders

Then I return to lecture mode sketching a monologue by Slavoj Zizek, found
in a documentary about him titled Zizek!, in which he makes a connection
between quantum physics and the notion of love as we know it, in the
romantic sense.

Love is a structure of imbalance. Particular things appear when the balance
of the void is destroyed. Love is evil.

The text/final questions:

How is the movie called?
What scares you?
Will you come back?
What gives you joy?
What do you believe in?What is the material used?

In the idiotic attitude and nature of the persona I created, I was probably
also manifesting a desire to frame my thinking around performance,
encrypting references dear to me around thinking and performing
improvisation and my strong disposition towards believing in art making as a
healing and transformative experience, both personal and collective.

In the installation version of the piece, the board became a place to play
with a score of question making, a never ending very fast process of turning
sensations and associations present in the room into questions to the
viewer. I did not documentthem.

Tulip - a song (Matthias Herrmann and Claire Cunningham)

Tulip - a song (Matthias Herrmann and Claire Cunningham)

there was a little girl, her name was tulip
she went to her daddy to help him
to fix all the old worn out clothes,
she was good with the needle and knife

on her way home thenit happend,
she ran in a group of big men,
they forced her to come with them
and in a dark corner they stopped.

you look so scared and freightend poor girl
relax and take your ...

What do you
want from me

we want to play with ...

i'm scared not.

she went down upon her knees
infront of the tallest man.

then she took her knife and she cut off his feet,
stitched them to his head and made them look
like funny bunny bigears

oh my god you crazy girl, i will call the police and they will ...

she cut the balls of the one guy
and stitched them to his eyes he screamed please let me be
she cut the hands of the other guy
she sewed them to his back they looked like angel wings she laughed
she cut the balls off
she made them monsters
monsters made to monster
monsters out of monsters
dick on his forehead

Den Tod niemand zwingen kunnt (J.S. Bach)

Den Tod niemand zwingen kunnt (J.S. Bach)

BWV 4 Cantata: Christ lag in Todesbanden III.

Versus II - Den Tod niemand zwingen kunnt

Johann Sebastian Bach

Den Tod niemand zwingen kunnt
Bei allen Menschenkindern,
Das macht alles unsre Sünd,
Kein Unschuld war zu finden.
Davon kam der Tod so bald
Und nahm über uns Gewalt,
Hielt uns in seinem Reich gefangen.

(English Translation)
Nobody could overcome death among all the children of mankind.
Our sin was the cause of all this, no innocence was to be found.
Therefore death came so quickly and seized power over us,
held us captive in his kingdom.
Alleluia !

On Installation Time - a critical essay (Jess Curtis)

On Installation Time - a critical essay (Jess Curtis)

Brief Outline of The Project

Dances for Non/Fictional Bodies was a multi-component performance-based project examining the role(s) of imagined societal ideals as a kind of “fictional body” that disables individuals in terms of our ability to see others, and be seen, as consequential, (agential??) beautiful, , and intersubjectively empowered beings.

Physically and conceptually the work investigated ideals of beauty, ability and identity based in socially imagined perfections of form and singularities that rarely exist in actual bodies.  The work examined difference as a virtue, finding the unique beauty in the idiosyncrasy and transmutability of each individual performer.  Much of the process also addressed the extension of subjectivity into the material world through bodies’ relationships with objects, clothing, and other bodies.  In the meetings between performers we highlighted the synergistic necessity and intersubjective complexity of difference, implicitly proposing that the audience re-consider their own definitions, constructions and limitations of identity, beauty and empowerment.

Intention of this Paper

This paper looks at issues of perception and duration in the creation process and various performances of Dances for Non/Fictional Bodies and their effects for the viewer.  In particular I examine the project’s attempt to present variations of the same performance material in a variety of different viewing contexts with different mobilizations of the viewer’s gaze and disciplinary expectations.  I articulate ways that durational strategies for mobilizing performers’ experience and affecting viewers’ perception were utilized in the creation of the work and look at how these processes established varyingsensory modes for both performers and audience and their relations to each other in performance.  I propose that  various presentational contexts afforded differences in the audience’s relation to time and perceptual experience and theorize how these differences were instrumental in offering audiences a variety of embodied aesthetic experiences.


I will be drawing on the work of a number of theorists to help me think through the perception/reception of the piece.  Henri Bergson’s concepts of perception, memory, duration and attentive recognition and Gilles Deleuze extension of these ideas offer useful ways of conceiving the reception of cultural and aesthetic images.  I will attempt to extend Laura Marks’ very useful mobilization of these theories in terms of film reception into the experience of live performance.  André Lepecki’s appropriations of the ‘slower ontology’ of recent modes of contemporary dance and the concept of the ‘still act’ are both helpful in thinking through relations to time and the political potential of these relations.  Alva Noë and James Gibson’s ideas on enactive perception; Susan Leigh Foster’s work on the mechanics of kinesthetic experience and performance theorist Erika Fischer-Lichte’s work on material performativity help me to think through some of the specifics physical mechanics of how these various relations to time may function.

The Artistic Team

For the primary aspects of Dances for Non/Fictional Bodies I collaborated with an international team of 6 performers, including performers with and without disabilities and a wide range of technical skills.  They were: Jörg Müller (FR), dancer, musician and Juggler; Claire Cunningham (Scotland) Crutch Dancer, Aerialist, Vocalist and Advocate/Speaker on arts and disability issues; Maria Francesca Scaroni (Italy), Dancer Performer; David Toole (UK) Dancer and Performer; Bridge Markland; (Berlin) Drag Artist, Dancer and Performer; and Composer/MusicianMathias Herrmann (Berlin).   Celebrated performance artist/author Guillermo Gomez-Peña also participated in a role that we named Dramaturge/Provocateur; experimental videographer Yoann Trellu made wonderful video imagery that became quite central to the work; our UC Davis “Costume Whisperer”, Kaino Hopper and Berlin costume and scenic designer Daniela Petrozzi contributed many magical objects and structures that informed the work immensely.

Multiple Presentational Modes

Dances for Non/Fictional Bodies was envisioned from the beginning as having a number of different manifestations and was conceived in an interdisciplinary,  modular format, allowing for the piece to be broken into sub-sections capable of being adapted to a variety of different presentational contexts, spaces and presenting budgets, as well as allowing for the work to produce a variety of documents and archives to be presented in visual or digital art contexts.  This was motivated both by my personal interest in exploring the differences in presentational contexts and by the hope that flexibility might yield more possibilities for the work to be seen. These iterations included:

  • A STAGED VERSION – A full-evening interdisciplinary performance work with 6 performers lasting 120 minutes
  • 2 GALLERY/INSTALLATION VERSIONS – several longer, time-based live-art installations with the same performers lasting 3 to 4 hours
  •  A COMMUNITY OUTDOOR INSTALLATION PERFORMANCE – A larger site-specific, community-based installation event including material developed with a group of 16 local artists in San Francisco using methodologies from our initial explorations.
  • ACTVITIES & WORKSHOPS – Gravity also offered several supplementary participatory/community activities, including physically inclusive classes and workshops addressing collaboration, dance/performance and the body; a film showing and a symposium on interdisciplinary live art and physical diversity.


The project spanned over three years from initial planning stages to final performances.  Initial rehearsal residencies and workshops began in Berlin in the fall of 2009 with a major residency and initial workshop presentations at the Mondavi Center at the University of California, Davis in the Spring of 2010.  The development of the work continued with a two-month creation residency at Uferstudios in Berlin in the fall of2010 culminating in  a rolling world premiere in Potsdam and Berlin, Germany in December of 2010 and in February of 2011 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. While in residence at YBCA the work was presented both as a staged work in the Center’s ‘Forum’ theater space, and as an installation in the Center’s Visual Art Gallery and Lobby.  The piece was also co-produced and presented by  Tigertail Productions/Florida Dance Association, (Miami), DA DA Fest (Liverpool,UK), and Performance Art Dance Laboratory (San Diego).

 Spectacle Time

A central concern in Dances for Non/Fictional Bodies, and in fact much of my work in recent years has involved different strategies of dealing with time.  Coming from a fairly traditional training in dance and theater, my earliest concerns as a maker were that I should never bore an audience.  Anything that I presented should hold their attention, rapt and unconscious of the passing of time for the duration of the event.  To look at one’s watch during a performance was the surest sign that the artist had failed.  Adding a healthy dose of rock-and-roll aesthetics, and a four-year stint working in the French circus, I found myself creating dense, multi-layered, action-packed spectacle that attempted to hold attention almost literally by brute force.  Occasional interruptions in the pace were justified only in order to hold attention through longer trajectories by creating rhythmic variation or to give the audience (and the dancers) a chance to catch their breath.  At the foundation of these values a mastery of the viewer’s attention was never questioned as being of the utmost importance. 

In this framing of time the audience member mobilizes a kind of attention that expects to be drawn into a sensorially engaging chain of events andunderstands that the beginning and end of this event are not chosen by them.  They are implicitly absolved of responsibility for choosing how long to be in relation to the spectacle, but carry a certain expectation that their attention will be rewarded with engagement, pleasure, intellectual stimulation.  They can complain or grumble about it being too long or short, but they will come into the space and sit and watch from beginning to end and clap when it is finished.  While they are in fact free to leave whenever they want, the act of leaving has social resonance in that it is perceived as judgment and or rejection of the proposition of the performance.  The general structure of this type of event is usually related to, or rooted in, a sequence of cause and effect relations or a linear narrative that resembles what Gilles Deleuze refers to as action images in his works on cinema (Deleuze Cinema 1)Deleuze Cinema 1)The action image tends to represent a stable sequential space wherein events progress logically from situation to situation changed by recognizable actions  [page] he posits the Action image as the main staple of commercial Hollywood film that tends toward positioning viewers as passive consumers of an entertainment commodity.

Deleuze’s critique of the action image is reminiscent of Guy Debord’scritique in The Society of the Spectacle. Debord’s lament of the fetishistic commodification of time by industrial capitalism and the concomitant loss of what he somewhat sentimentally names cyclical time remain central and useful in Marxist and Situationist critique of contemporary culture.  With an appreciation of Debord I would like to borrow and twist his naming and critique of ‘Spectacular Time’ (Debord, 112) and name the practice of time I have articulated above as ‘Spectacle Time’ in relation to my own experience of performance.  While I want to draw on Debord’s Marxist/Situationist critique of the spectacular commodity, I want to leave a little space for slippage as I find that in my post 1968, post Berlin wall world, my practices exist alongside of, partially reliant on and inevitably penetrated by regimes of commodification and subjectification .  I want the concept of spectacle time to hold a sense of usefulness as a tactic for addressing a certain kind of popular audience.  I want it to retain an awareness of Debord’s critique of “Spectacular Time” without carrying with it the full ideological weight of that critique. I want to be able to reverse critiques of performance as subjecting the performer to the objectifying gaze of the viewer and to embrace a considered mobilization of spectacle time as an empowering and useful tool for commanding the attention of a broad(er), popular public.*

*My collaborative work with Maria Scaroni Symmetry Study #14:  (re)presentation is a good example of one potential mobilization of spectacle time.  While the work embraces a variety of durational strategies and addresses sophisticated issues of embodiment, it presents images in such a way as to draw viewers into rapt attention using a variety of spectacular strategies including subtle narrative structures, haptically visual erotics, film and emotionally suggestive music.  As of this writing the count on internet viewings of the trailer for Study #14  is approaching 300,000 viewers.

Dancing Slower - 'Still-Acts'

Perhaps because of my own interdisciplinary, intercontinental migrations in recent years I began to be aware of large variations in the attention of audiences as I crossed national, cultural, and disciplinary borders.  The cultural constructed-ness of attention and therefore the potential for deconstructing or re-structuring of practices of attention began to intrigue me.  In 2001, having worked almost exclusively in a 500-seat circus tent in France for three years (truly a setting for spectacle time) I found myself longing for the patience and attention to physical nuance that was afforded by performing choreographic work in small black box theaters or studio settings. In my next creation, fallen, one of my stated process goals was to not be afraid of boring an audience.  I was pleasantly surprised that even as I took more time to let images resonate, my audiences did not report less engagement with the work, but more engagement on more levels.  Encouraged, I continued in this vein, allowing myself greater latitudes of choice in how I used time in my work.  Of course these realizations were not unique or arrived at in isolation.  Work that I was seeing and theory that I was reading both affirmed the possibility and suggested the importance of a shift in how body-based performance might exist in time.  Choreographers such as Jerome Bel and Meg Stuart were utilizing time in very different ways.  Dance scholar André Lepecki, writing in Exhausting Dance about recent slowing tendencies in contemporary dance borrows from Gaston Bachelard to refer to this recent dance’s “slower ontology” (Lepecki, 15) and propose that the endless flows of modern dance might  be seen as emblematic of other products of modernism such as colonialism and global capitalist exploitation.  Lepecki borrows the concept of the “still-act” from anthropologist Nadia Seremetakis (15) that suggests that the slowing down of dance (and modernist activity in general) in order to ask what it is actually accomplishing might not be such a bad thing. In Lepecki’s word’s “The still acts because it interrogates economies of time…” (15)

Time and Agency

In my own experience, merely slowing down performance has not always seemed productive either.  Painfully enduring several time-based events that felt rooted in the determination to provoke the viewer simply by out-waiting them, I began to ask myself about the dynamics of my engagement and look at why I could be very patient and engaged with some durational experiments and not with others.  I asked myself how I might create my own relation to time when watching another’s work, or what kind of action I might take to maintain my own sense of agency when in a less than satisfying durational experience. My work, Performance Research Experiment #1 with Jörg Müller addressed this issue by offering a structure wherein audience members were able to influence the duration of each section of the piece, effectively choosing for themselves (and not inconsequentially for each other) how long to remain present with a given performance action.  In performing this work in a variety of settings, ranging from a street theater festival in Marseilles to a small experimental dance space in San Francisco some patterns of attention and engagement revealed themselves. 15 year old youths in a banlieue of Marseilles demonstrated much less patience for, or interest in, the work than middle aged gay men in San Francisco.  Americans in general signaled their lack of engagement sooner than German audiences.  But in every situation, the work had the effect of prompting audiences to become aware of their own attention and its dynamics, and gave them effective means of shaping their own viewing experience and that of other viewers, often provoking spontaneous discussion between audience members and complicating individuals understanding of possible modes of attending to performance; revealing that multiple durations might exist in proximity or simultaneous to one another.  A variety of audience members in multiple situations consistently reported that their engagement with the material was increased when they experienced choice and agency as to how (or how long) they experienced the work.

Time Theory – Duration

Bergson’s notion of duree or duration, which is central to Deleuze notion of time-image cinema, depends upon a person experiencing the passing of time.[Marks 63]

Theorist Henri Bergson wrote extensively about duration as a central facet of experience(Bergson).  Deleuze, describing Bergson’s use of the term (durée in the French) cites Bergson’s example of taking a walk and sitting by the side of a river where you watch a river flow by and a bird fly over as you sit there for a while.  Each of these events is a duration and has duration relative to the other.  While you sit you see an object in the water pass you which forms a unit of your experience of time.  The time the bird takes to pass through your range of vision is a different singular section of time, and each of them layers over the other singular experience of the time that you are sitting. (Deleuze Bergsonism) Different than measured clock time, each of these durations can be experienced as a single unit of time or as part of a greater whole and each one references each of the others in a different way, our experience and the various movements of the universe sliding througheach other. Deleuze muses on Bergson’s ambivalence throughout his career, from one work to the next, on whether time is unified or multiple.  Is it all one big duration with only little sections of time like eddies in the river, moving back and forth within it?  Or is there no all-encompassing unified durational whole?

In a performance context the question of whether time is metaphysically passing at a different rate for one viewer than another may also in fact be what Bergson might have called a ‘false problem’, but my experience of duration in various performance contexts does seem variable and malleable.  In the works that followed Performance Research Experiment #1 I began to address this malleability of duration and the ways that each performer’s sense of duration(s) might interweave to create a larger singular duration in the work.

Precursor – The Symmetry Project

Much of my thinking about durational practice has been shaped by work and conversations with my collaborator, artist and dancer Maria Francesca Scaroni.  In our series of works together, The Symmetry Project, issues of duration and differences in the attention afforded by various time and space frames were central to our ongoing investigation.  A desire to address more subtle energies and states in, around and between bodies and an interest in experiences that took muck longer arcs of time to develop pushed us to try a variety of experiments ranging from the capturing of 1/1000 of a second with the camera of collaborator Sven Hagolani to a four hour long symmetrical trance state in a visual art gallery, and the folding in of time afforded by Regina Teich’s editing of two hours of shooting (and god knows how many hours of editing) into a 5 minute digital video work.  Within the Symmetry Project we were experimenting with creating local systems of duration within each work asking ourselves how we might use different presentational contexts to foreground a variety of concerns regarding embodied experience and culture.   While there is not space in this document to detail the experiments of The Symmetry Project much of the methodology that we used and thinking that informed us in Dances For Non/Fictional Bodies was developed in there.

Researching Time, Attention and Performance in the Dances for Non/Fictional Bodies Process

As we began our first major rehearsal process at UC Davis, time was of the essence so to speak. Time framed most things that we did.  Many durations layered each other in our minds and bodies:  a seven-week working period; daily rehearsals of four to six hours; and several research exercises whose primary organizational element was a time frame. 

One of our primary repeated experiments was an exercise examining the dynamics of performance, based in Erving Goffman’s definition of performance as,  “…all the activity of an individual which occurs during a period marked by his continuous presence before a particular set of observers and which has some influence on the observers.” (Goffman, 22) (my emphasis ) In this exercise, which I have been developing as a teaching and training tool for several years, participants work in duets with one participant ‘performing’ and the other participant constituting that ‘performance’ through the act of observing for a specific period of time.  In our process we worked with 30 minute and one-hour durations of observing, where the only framing of the experience was the time and the agreement to observe and remain physically present before that observer.  I gave instructions to the ‘performers’ to investigate various actions and states ranging from the most banal to those that might be engaging or entertaining to the observer.  Both parties were instructed to monitor the effects of various activities and to register and report on levels of attention, their awareness of time and any other effects of being observed/observing.  My collaborators and I tried to test the boundaries of what might be ‘performed’ in the exercise.  Some tried to sleep in front of the observer, or ignore them while carrying out mundane or purely functional tasks such as reading a book, eating or using the toilet.  Some ‘performers’ played with engaging the observer directly by performing for them, either displaying skills or entertaining tricks or telling stories, engaging the observer in conversation or making physical contact or inviting them into physical activity. 

Much of my intention with this exercise was to examine the effects of the observer’s gaze on each of the participants.  I have written about this in some detail in my Masters thesis, drawing on disability theorists Lennard Davis, William Ian Miller and Rosemarie Garland Thompson about the effects of visibility on experiences of physical difference or disability.  In each of their writing they affirm the ‘unsettling’ (Miller, x) physically affecting quality (Davis)of these visual exchanges and suggest the possibility of change in viewers’ experience of otherness that Garland-Thompson even goes so far as to name ‘visual activism’.(Garland-Thomson, 193)  While this was one of the primary foci of our original work, here I want to think a bit more through the effects of time on the participants’ relation in this exercise.

In Matter and Memory Bergson describes what he calls ‘attentive recognition’ which he proposes as one of the primary interactions between memory and perception. I find this concept to be quite useful in thinking about what transpires over time between a viewer and a performer.

 “…attentive recognition is a kind of circuit, in which the external object yields to us deeper and deeper parts of itself, as our memory adopts a correspondingly higher degreeof tension in order to project recollections towards it.” (Bergson, 145)

As I understand Bergson’s meaning, the act of attentive recognition needs time to be produced. The ‘circuit’ is amplified through the durational continuation of perception and memory.  For Bergson all perceptual experience is made meaningful through comparison of perceptions with memory. Each moment of perception is constantly folding into memory to support and be projected into each next moment of perception.  This accreting body of memories and the ‘tension’ between memory and perception require time to develop and they also shape our subjective experience of time into particular durations or arcs of awareness.  The more time we spend in this tension, the richer a reservoir of memory we have to make choices with, in relation to the object of our observation.

Perhaps I should take a moment to clearly state that these exercises were not coming out of any Bergsonian theorizing or time.  I had not read any Bergson at the point that we were doing these exercises.  Our intention to take more time came from an intuitive sense that staying in these extended attentive states with each other was affording interesting experiences on the part of each participant. Nuanced details of behavior became noticeable even in the most mundane activities.  The ‘performers’ gift of permission to observe them allowed for the reception of details of physical experience not often accessible in normal social relations. Our interrogation of ‘economies of time’ produced more nuanced qualities of attentive recognition. My collaborators reported surprise at their levels of engagement with the observation of simple tasks.  Their sense of time often passed more quickly than they had imagined. At least in our research mode, our attention to, and recognition of,  each other was greatly enhanced. Whether or not we could translate these effects to a paying audience in our performance remained to be seen. Looking back through the filter of a Bergsonian reading of these activities now though, I see that these periods of attentive recognition between observer and performer also helped to form subjective experiences of duration.  These experiences of duration began to be useful in structuring our choices and experiences throughout the creation process. 

Open Sets

Another of our time-based exploratory devising activities is something I call an “Open Set” of improvisation, a period of time ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours wherein we would improvise activities ranging from dancing, or creating physical images to executing mundane tasks or interactions exploring our thematic interests.  These “Open Sets” might have prompts or constraints as open as “change costumes at least three times” or, “ Do exactly what you did in the last Set to the extent that this is possible,” or “create an ideal score/sequence of events for yourself and then execute it, negotiating and incorporating intersections and contradictions with other peoples scores as you encounter them.”  One of the most useful constraints, and one that we continued to return to was “Spend half of your time watching someone else.”  This constraint could be described as prompting the performer to alternate between the role of subject and object* in the transaction of attentive recognition as well as requiring them to become aware of each span of attention as a duration within the larger durational system.  In our experience, the attention that we began to pay to our own perception made that perception available to others as an object of performance in and of itself.  The layers of duration in perception and memory began to intersect each other, not so much in linear sequences, but in structures more like what Walter Benjamin refers to as a non-linear ‘constellation’ of events (Benjamin and Tiedemann) or Gilles Deleuze describes as a crystal image, wherein, “…the original point at which actual and virtual image reflect each other produces, in turn, a widening circuit of actual and virtual images like a hall of mirrors.” (Deleuze Cinema 2-the Time Image, 76) If we could successfully draw our audience into this crystalline constellation we might enable them to also engage in a deepening attentive recognition of our actions.


*This alternation builds on the already complex notion of subject and object in a performance transaction.  Laura Mulvey has positioned the performer as an observed body that is objectified by the viewer’s (ostensibly male) gaze, whilemore recently critics such as Amelia Jones propose the possibility of body based art to “overtly solicit spectatorial desires (in order to) unhinge the very deep structures and assumptions embedded in the formalist model of art evaluation.” (Jones, 1998).

Guillermo Gomez-Peña's 'Radical Pedagogy' and ‘Installation Time.’

Guillermo Gómez-Peña, our resident dramaturge/provocateur proposed another performance exercise from his ‘Radical Pedagogy’ work that helped us to develop a different sense of time than the kind of attention grabbing ‘Spectacle time’ that most of us as performers had been trained in.  Guillermo referred to this exercise as the Triptych, In the exercise one performer would choose something from our supply of objects and costumes and would take a position based on the object, intuitively striking a ‘pose’ that felt potent or meaningful to them.  A second performer would also choose an object and join them, responding to the first position and extending or complementing or resisting it.  Eventually a third would join the sculptural construction as well.  Guillermo would ask us to then remove ourselves or play with replacing one of the original participants after they left.  Within the exercise Guillermo asked us to find a physical tone that was not moving too much, but was allowing the construction to ‘breathe’, without moving out of it.  As I embodied these different constructions or scenes I could feel a desire to move once the initial relationship had been established. 

Guillermo commented that he had often watched dancers respond this way.  Echoing the critique articulated earlier in this essay, in his opinion dancers were conditioned always to be moving and often did not rest in images or relationships in performance long enough for them to resonate and be received by the viewer.  As we repeated this exercise over time I found myself beginning to have a new sense of how long I could be in a particular type of physical relation.  It was important to feel the quality of the position or relationship breathing, that it should not be stiff or frozen.  I began to sense that stillness allowed for the deepening and intensifying of the recognition of the relation by an outside observer.  Bergson’s model of the way that perception and memory work in tandem helps me to think about how longer durations of time might facilitate this deepening experience.  As I view Bridge or David in their black gloves feeling Maria’s body through the yellow raincoat.  The image is first perceived, felt, ‘read’ and then each subsequent awareness of that interaction is re-read or re-felt through the growing body of previous moments.  Each little shift in the relation is read in contrast/comparison with the last one.  If Bridge has gently approached Maria to make the first contact then the continuation of the contact will be felt through the filter of that initial gentleness.  If a new action is not felt to negate it, that initial gentleness will extend and intensify, confirming my initial appraisal of the act over time.  If on the other hand, Bridge’s quality or action shifts quickly, the original quality is questioned or supplanted.  As in Bergson’s model each new perception is experienced in dialog with the growing reservoir of memory and in turn becomes a part of that memory. 

Clearly some attention must also be paid to point at which the information begins to fatigue or decay.  Like most situations of resonance, vibration or oscillation begins to diminish with time.  Asking ourselves how long an image would continue to resonate visually became key to our choices around the duration of each activity.

As we continued to work and went back from these exercises of Guillermo’s to our own “Open-Set” improvisations I could feel a different sense of time available to me.  Moments when I would normally have allowed a relationship to morph or pass on to another action I would feel through the current action and stay with it, allowing it to breathe enough to stay alive without moving on to something else.  It is very much my sense that this sense of ‘time’ is informed by Guillermo’s having come out of the Visual Art based performance world.  I therefore want to call this sort of time ‘Installation Time’.  It trusts that our perception of an image can re-cycle against itself in relative stillness and against each new moment of our own perception of it. 

UC Davis - "U"Club Installation

Our first exploration of installation time was a three-hour durational presentation in the studios of the University Club at UC Davis.  This first installation was very exploratory.  It was our first public performance of the material and we left ourselves free to improvise with images and material we had been working with.

The evening began with all five performers lying still on the floor and after several minutes slowly, one by one getting up and taking off or putting on clothing and taking up objects and slowly transforming from their “non/fictional’ self to some form of “fictional body”.  Maria Scaroni donned a yellow raincoat and roller skates and skated throughout the building, intermittently passing through the main performance space of the University Club and then being sighted out side the space through the large windows facing the street and courtyard.  David Toole put on fake black costume glasses literally framing and drawing our attention to his gaze.  He wore a set of thick black protective industrial gloves and proceeded to be drawn through the space as if in alternation between his gaze and the gloves.  His vision fixing on an object (which might also be a person) and then his desire to touch the thing he had fixed his gaze on pulling him across the space and eventually into contact with it.  Jörg Müller walked into the audience and invited the spectators to hold hands with him and each other.  This developed on this first night into a 15 or 20-minute extended contact dance with one spectator.  Claire Cunningham retreated to the kitchen space behind the main U-club playing space and began an extended exploration in a Silver HazMat suit with a small Godzilla doll and a string of Christmas lights.  I sat in pajamas and read books about bodies to the audience.  The audience, encouraged by Guillermo and several volunteers followed different performers through different rooms, their own movement activating and shaping their perceptions.  Their own movement through the night creating unique image sequences and building individual reservoirs of memory with which to engage the next moment’s perception. 

All of these images required a certain amount of time to really develop.  Without the container of the installation as a durational concept we would not have felt the freedom to explore at the pace and in the detail that we did.  Invoking installation-time we freed ourselves from total responsibility for rewarding the attention of the audience.  Each of the above mentioned images would remain in the work for the entire scope of the project, but each would be changed and morphed by each of the different time contexts that we presented the piece in.

At the end of three hours the performers and viewers stood in a circle surrounding me and illuminated by a string of Christmas lights that had earlier illuminated Claire in the kitchen with her Godzilla puppet.  The lights now powered by a generator attached to my bicycle generator - an odd and slightly ironic glowing ritual space that nonetheless resonated with echoes of summer camp campfires and perhaps even older circles in nights long past.  This group image, which would not ever repeat again in our many iterations of this material was a collaboratively created by the audience and us coming together to close the many durations of time that we had each flowed through in one final act of moving and perceiving each other.

First Staged Iteration – Mondavi Studio Theater

Following this first invocation of installation time we went on to stage the material in a 50 minute presentation as the second act of a two-part evening in the Studio Theater at the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Arts.  This performance carried with it echoes of our experiments with duration, but very different constraints, associations and expectations were engaged by the more standard theatrical context.  Although the audience was seated on two sides creating multiple viewing angles and allowing them to see each other, they were not invited to stand or change locations during the work.  We did, however, play with the expectations of spectacle-time, first by being already present in the space as the audience entered and found their seats.  Secondly, we took many of the same actions on the stage that we had in the installation and while we didn’t take as much time as we had in the installation, we pressed the boundaries of how long an audience in Davis, California is used to watching subtle yet focused activity at a dance event.  In our initial outing we had all flexed some durational muscles that helped us as a group to feel more confident about allowing images on the stage to last longer than we might have before.  Our visual address of the audience also remained.  They could see us seeing them and this reflexive seeing and being seen was accentuated by the less experimental theatrical setting.  The possibilities of attentive recognition that I have previously outlined remained and the density of the durational experiment seemed to fold into the staged event.  Bergson talks about how memory ‘contracts’ to bring itself into contact with the present moment and I have a sense of this having taken place in our work.  The hours of patient watching contracted into moments on stage that folded all of that previous experience into itself to give a rich sense of density to the present moment for both performer and audience.  So while we trimmed and tightened our work and selected and shaped images to respond to a more spectacular context I believe we began to bring the contracted tension of our previous installation-time experiment into the spectacle-time frame, forcing it also to oscillate and deepen the audience’s attention.

Spaces Shape Perception and Time

Different spaces evoke different strategies of perception and different relations to time.  Walls, windows, halls, stairs, curtains and columns enable, deny and shape sensory access to events and objects in our surroundings.  If I am a wheelchair user and a flight of stairs stands between me and the performance space I may very well not be able to see that performance.  Restricted view seats behind columns at the opera house cost less because they require more work on my part to look-around and or fill-in details that are completely occluded.  The architectural spaces of rehearsal studios, black box theaters, renovated garages, circus tents, galleries, museums city parks or parking lots all require and create specific choreographies for the bodies that enter them, whether as audience and performers or even when a performance is not ‘taking place.’

Social habits of viewing also determine basic parameters or cultural norms that viewers both consciously and unconsciously abide by.  In my experience creating events, people are constantly responding to contextual clues to determine how they should respond in social/cultural spaces.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  I believe that audiences mostly want to respect the proposals of artists and receive work in ways that are appropriate and useful both to the artist and the viewer.  People want to do the ‘right thing’.  The more things that tell an audience that they are coming to a theater to be in spectacle-time the more they will respond in this way.  When I first began to try to create ‘installation’ work I was confronted with how many cues I inadvertently gave that invoked spectacle time and caused audiences to treat the event like a theater experience.  Even in an art gallery, a row or rows of chairs insinuates a front for the work to be viewed from, a publicized starting time is taken for a beginning to the work, darkness or silence at the entrance of performers furthers a sense of linearity and sequence.  If the duration of the event is stated as being in the range of a standard performance evening, audiences will tend to engage spectacle time behaviors and come and sit from the beginning to the end of the performance, even if the event is taking place in a gallery in front of paintings or in relation to other visual art elements.  On the other hand if I interrupt or counter theatrical conventions I can interrupt theatrical viewing habits.  I can interrupt the onset of spectacle time.

Perception in Action

Installation-time mobilizes viewers.  Nearly all perception is intrinsically bound up in the ability of a perceiver to be able to subtly or significantly re/orient herself to facilitate perception.  Even if I am sitting in a cushioned theater seat in the dark behind rows of other viewers, small shifts in perspective help to shape and bring new information with each moment to fold into the information already received into memory.  James J. Gibson proposed that the senses out to be thought of as “perceptual systems”(Gibson) and Alva Noë goes even further to propose that “the world makes itself available to the perceiver throughphysical movement and interaction.” (Noë).  For Noë sensorimotor skills are the basis of experience and cognition.

Bergson reasons that the very act of recognition of familiar faces or objects is realized at its most fundamental level in the memory of the muscular sensations of tracing outlines with the eye?(Bergson, 116)   When I watch movement-based performance, the activity of visually tracking bodies in motion produces movement in my body that indexes the movement that I am tracking.  My body is physically and consequentially involved even just in following the performer through space, through changing levels and directions.  My various senses work together complementing each other, through movement, to deepen or extend my ability to effectively interact with my surroundings.

“Movement multiplies visual and intermodal feedback loops.  It enables a continuous, complexifying, cross-referencing of variations to each other – an indexing of aspects of unfolding experience to its own products and of its products to their ever-changing, unperceived field of emergence.” (Massumi, 156)

Sensory motor cross-referencing is widely theorized as making all of our daily movements and actions possible (Noë; Gibson; Bergson) and though we think of it as primary in most performance exchanges, vision is not the only sensory system involved.  Sound helps us to recognize and understand the environment we are in, and who and what is in it with us.  While we may not consciously rely on sound to navigate in space as much as we rely on vision, the acoustic field of our experience is a vast sensory landscape within which our other senses locate themselves, synesthetically* cross-referencing the nature of our surroundings and the other objects and entities that might be sharing it with us.  Acoustic topology is a multi-dimensional field that helps us to direct and focus our attention in order to capture other types of sensory information.  Riding my bike in the street, I hear the approach of a car from behind and turn my head to determine its exact location and proximity and verify that I am safely out of range.  Our hearing transcends materio-spatial occlusions, allowing us to hear events that are blocked from vision or touch by intervening objects or bodies.  I hear the squirrel running across my roof or the rain falling on it.  Subtle variations in sound give me a sense of what kind of space I am in.  The nearly unconscious perception of echo gives me a vastly different feeling of space in a cathedral than in my shower.  At the same time, sound transcends the inner/outer distinction of our own bodies, as we are able to hear our breath, and sometimes even our own heartbeat.  At certain frequencies there is no boundary between hearing and touch.  Bass notes vibrating in our bones are both felt and heard experiences, transduced into both our aural and tactile sensory mechanisms. 

*'synesthesia' refers to the collaboration or confusion of multiple senses in sensory experience.


Haptic Visuality

Laura Marks writing and thinking about  ‘haptic visuality’, (Marks, 162) has been helpful to me in thinking about other ways that synesthetic experiences inform our experience of performance.  Although she writes regarding intercultural cinema in her book The Skin of the Film, I find that much of her work is readily adapted to thinking about live performance.  Marks argues for a ‘tactile epistemology’ that, following Bergson, understands that all sensory experience exists and is made useful in relation to memory.  In memory, visual experiences comingle with memories of touch and can resonate as tactile sensations in the body.  As I see texture, my skin may under certain conditions have an experience akin to that which it might have were it to be in contact with that textured surface.  Again time is key to this type of experience.  As perceptions inform each other through memory, longer durations of time allow for us to remain in the intersection of these different sensory modes and attentively recognize them.  To apply Marks’ theories to live performance there are a number of important differences that need to be addressed.  Film usually exists on a plane.  Within the frame of the film there may be occlusion and I may perceive some sense of dimension, but even with recent advances in 3-D film technology my eyes rarely behave as though there were anything beyond the plane of the screen.  Physiologically my eyes never need to adjust their focus when watching a film, they are always at the same focal length that corresponds to my distance from the screen.  Depending on how far I am from the screen and how large the screen is, my view is not as reliant on the movement of my head and neck to direct my vision of the artistic object.  

In live performance, especially in the smaller scale venues where Dances for Non/Fictional Bodies played, different sets of dimensions are at play.  There is greater range of depth, and generally a wider field of my vision is actively involved.  Bodies moving in space require that my eyes constantly adjust focus, Not only my eyes, but my whole body may be mobilized to track moving objects across my range of vision to a much greater degree than when watching a fixed plane.  The range of proximities varies widely depending on the specifics of the playing space.  Sitting in the front row of a small black box theater is a much different experience than sitting in the last row of an opera house.  Standing in a gallery, or warehouse or bar, where I can move around the performance is yet again another level where my ‘performance’ as a spectator can have much more impact on my own experience I also often have choices about directing my attention in a broader field of vision my agency as a viewer comes into play.

Film can offer the experience of ‘zooming in’ to an image and effecting proximity to surfaces and textures that might not be readily afforded by most live performance settings.  Film also offers textural possibilities based in the technology and material realities of the medium itself; soft focus, textures and optical patterns that Marks refers to as the ‘haptic image’ (Marks, 163) that “forces the viewer to contemplate the image itself “ and “connects directly to sense perception.”(Ibid).  However installation style performance can also enable real-time close proximity experiences like those that Marks describes and may even afford actual direct haptic contact with performers, the textures of their clothing or skin and even the actual weight and motion of their bodies.

The attentive sensory experience requires a change to maintain its vibrancy.  If I sit completely still and stare indefinitely at an object or image that is also not moving my vision will eventually fade and deteriorate.  In order to maintain the vibrancy of my perception in work that is not built around lots of spatial activity, more movement on my part may be required.  Spaces that allow me more freedom of movement may allow me to adjust my viewing in ways that enable me to remain engaged with much more subtle levels of action on the part of the performer.


Second Installation – Ufer Studios in Berlin

Our second durational experiment occurred at the Ufer Studios in Berlin at the culmination of our fall 2010 residency there.  The space of the installation itself brought a history that invoked layers of time.  The Uferstudios are the new contemporary dance center in Berlin.  They are a renovated former bus repair and machine shops of the BVG, Berlin’s transit authority.  The studio that we inhabited for our installation, called just Studio One has a particularly visible history.  It is constructed in what was the area of drive-over trenches where mechanics could go down beneath busses to work on them without having to lift the busses.  The walls between the trenches were removed, but the main studio space remains a five-foot deep sunken area with the old white tile of the bus repair era lining its walls.  As with many spaces in Berlin, one can feel layers of history in the space; old white tiles surrounded by fresh white plastered gypsum walls and ultra-modern, state-of-the-art German door and window hardware.

The weekend prior to the DNFB installation performances, Gravity hosted our colleague Maria and the Berlin collective AADK, Aktuelle Architektur Der Kultur as they staged a twelve-hour installation event called ‘The State of Things’.  This event provided a useful warming of the space to invoke installation time prior to our performances.*

This second public installation process was under quite different cultural conditions than our initial installation experience; first, our being in Berlin as opposed to being in Davis.  The level of discourse around contemporary dance in Berlin is much more developed than almost anywhere in the world at the moment.  Viewers would be much more sophisticated and professional stakes much higher than in the relative safety of UC Davis.  People in the Berlin scene are not shy about being critical, but at the same time, the concept of an installation as a frame for a dance event is not particularly unique there.  Another difference would be that the installation was fully publicized, advertised and presented as one of a series of performance events under the title Dances for Non/Fictional Bodies.

At the installation in Studio One we attempted to invoke installation time, by using the fact that the space was not a standard theatrical venue and giving viewers as many cues to counter passive spectacle time viewing as possible.  We chose to advertise the beginning of the event as 6pm, considerably earlier than a standard theatrical curtain time, and continuing until 9pm.  There was no fixed seating.  Although stairs leading down into the recessed playing space formed a rough riser on one side of the playing space, only light cushions and not chairs were provided to viewers in this area.  Our set designer Daniela Petrozzi placed prop elements from the show with this riser space so that individuals sitting there were sitting inside the visual design of the piece.  Walkways on the edges of the playing space allowed audience to move freely on three sides of the space and look down into the recessed playing space.  And performers also moved within these spaces and behind the riser area.  A bar and bartender were situated in one corner of the room serving drinks and snacks throughout the performance and all of the audience and performers were in the same lighting environment for the majority of the time.  Audience members could easily adjust their viewing angle to see something from a different perspective and were often forced to in order to observe action that took place behind them above the riser and sunken playing space.  A large courtyard just outside the entrance to the performance space allowed the audience to go outside to get some fresh air (or have a cigarette) and return easily.

The work itself had also changed, developed and expanded considerably in the six weeks of rehearsals prior to these installations.  Original cast member David Toole had left the project to be replaced by Drag King and Actor Bridge Markland.  Due to David’s unique physicality, it was not really possible to merely place Bridge into actions and interactions that David had performed before.  Hours of improvisation and exploration had started to form new images relating to issues of gender and transformation as well as bringing these issues to bear on some of the images of David’s that Bridge still embodied.

These installations were also at the beginning of what would be three months of extensive performing and international touring.  The pressure of upcoming, high profile engagements made it difficult to remain in quite the same level of experimental attitude that had been possible at our UC Davis residency.  Lengthy discussions proceeded as to what really constituted an ‘installation.’  These were productively informed by Maria/AADK’s presentation, The State of Things but not in uncomplicated ways, with several of our collaborators having a wide range of responses to that twelve-hour experiment.  In the end as director I chose a kind of middle path.  We continued to work in rehearsal within the frame of a sequence of images that corresponded to the evolving sequence of images planned for our theatrical presentations.  These images carried over from and then built on the basic sequence of activities that had constituted our UC Davis theatrical performances.  Beginning with lying on the floor in ‘street’ clothes, getting up to change costumes that created ‘fictional bodies’ and proceeding into a constellation of simultaneous yet intersecting paths and actions.  These installations would be more linear and less improvisational than our initial U-Club explorations.  With each of our paths more set, the space for improvisational play and experiment would reside more directly in how we inhabited the longer durations of each activity.  Our exploration would be to allow each of the images we had been working with to take more time than they previously had and to feel how are presence and attention might productively expand into these longer durations and continue to create and deepen circuits of attentive recognition with our audiences.  Some of the more specifically choreographed sections of the work were not so malleable, such as the carnivalesque section we called Käse in the beginning of the work, but many of our images readily expanded into longer periods of time.

During this period we incorporated several new elements into the work as well.  Chief among those were the myriad of objects collected and created by scenic designer Daniela Petrozzi.  Her literal scavenger hunt for objects that were too difficult to transport from the Davis experience and the innumerable other odd and magical objects that she brought into the process made for many new facets and subtleties to the work. 

In addition to these many ‘fossils and fetishes’ (Marks)and in many ways using them, videographer Yoann Trellu joined us and began to experiment with layering video projections onto our bodies, objects, parts of the set, and sometimes onto the whole space.  Although I’ve gone to some length to differentiate live performance from cinema in terms of how ‘haptic visuality’ might take place, in this case Yoann’s work absolutely embodied Laura Marks’ theories of the visually haptic, layering processed, textural projection onto the skins of the performers and the space.  The “skin of the film” becoming our skin and engulfing us in an auratic glow where projected images floated in space, in and out of proximity in much the same way that Bergson proposes they might do in our memory.  Creating with his camera a kind of metaphorical memory of projection next to and sometimes directly on the very objects that his camera had ‘remembered’.

As I return to watch the short trailer we have edited for this archive I am taken back into my own memories of that moment, those durations.  While, as you might see, we performed for small audiences in these installation performances, the quality of the time we spent in this space was a unique experience of installation time.  Perhaps even because the viewers did not overwhelmingly outnumber us, they became more responsible to the success of our exchange.  And again these installations folded into the subsequent iterations of the work, allowing moments that in the final staged work would only last 20 or 30 seconds to carry with them the weight of hours of attention that they received in this experiment.


* I mention this to acknowledge again being very much affected by Maria’s interest in pushing the bounds of body and attention even farther than we would do in the DNFB process.  Her practice brought valuable experience and critique into our experimentsand conversations on durational performance.


Second Staged Iteration – Potsdam, Liverpool, Uferstudio14

The next phase of our project took us back onto the stages where we condensed, or contracted, the time of our installations in Studio One back into spectacle time, a ‘show’ with an intermission and running approximately two hours.  While it is beyond the scope of this essay to recount much of that process I will mention a couple of details that seem relevant.  In re-translating to the stage we brought with us several durations from installation time that continued to resonate.  1) We removed lines of chairs in the risers that allowed performers to move through and behind the audience, thereby interruption one of the normal cues of spectacle time.  2) We again began the piece with all performers present in the space, laying still on the floor until well after the audience was all seated so that the ‘beginning’ of the work was complicated for the viewer.  3) With the new sequence of events that we had developed in the Uferstudios installations my own bicycling image spanned two very different scenes and atmospheres in the middle of the show.  I decided to make this transition into an intermission, where the house lights came up and the audience could stand up and visit the bar for refreshments if they chose.  I however remained on the bicycle, pedaling in installation-ish fashion confusing the sense of the performance space and the off space.  My action spanned the separation of on and off time that is usually experienced in spectacle time.  Audience members acknowledged my continued performance, but some were much more active in doing so.  Some stayed seated, watching me for a time.  Others left and returned, asking those who had stayed whether I had continued while they were away.  They spoke to each other and audibly discussed my continued presence before them in ways that would not be normally afforded in spectacle time, at least until the seats were again full and the house lights dimmed and the second act began.

Museum Time

When I walk through a museum, I have the impression of the conservation of time.  It is clear that the artifacts that I encounter have had much longer arcs of duration than my own and particularly that there arcs of duration extend well beyond their overlap with my perception of them.  Their presence in those spaces precedes my visit and will continue in time after my visit.  The practical effect of this is that I am much more cognizant of my own choices in time and the fact that my performance as audience to these artifacts is what shapes the intersection of our durations in the gallery, museum.  I choose the duration, I am the agent of its becoming.  I also choose proximity to a large degree but that is a slightly different issue. 

I recall being in the Italian painting section of the Louvre several years ago with Maria and walking from one end to the other; from the two-dimensional, flat canvasses of pre- perspective Etruscan temple art up through the centuries to the opulent depth and richness of Caravaggio, whose rich black backdrops made me feel like I could almost walk back into them, as though walking back into time itself.  And of course the middle of all of this is the Mona Lisa, her surprisingly small portrait hanging behind safety glass and being captured over and over, time punctuated by the endless flashes from cameras of stupid tourists who a) have ignored signs asking them not to shoot photos with flash b) perhaps don’t even realize that the flash is on or don’t understand how to set their camera settings to turn it off, c) don’t understand that shooting a pane of glass with a flash will most likely obliterate the visibility of whatever is behind the pane of glass due to the flashes reflection.   So in spite of all of this, with camera’s popping like the original Paparazzi, one has the impression of the timeless, the very patient, smile of the Mona Lisa enduring each of our gaze, whether it is only recorded in the 1/1000 of a second of that flash or in my slightly longer attempt to breathe her in from between the flashes as they punctuate her presence.  As the crowd surrounding her prevents me from getting any closer, I turn to go.

Behind me on the wall is a giant painting by Veronese, The Wedding Feast at Cana, hanging up and above.  Long and wide, it captures a moment of a different order; a representation of the biblical story where Jesus turns water into wine.  It is a moment of tumult frozen in time, or perhaps many moments of time melted into paint.  Although it could be seen as a kind of snapshot not unlike the flashes popping now behind me, if one looks closely one can see that each of the figures is in their own time, in their own Bergsonian duration.  Even reflecting on the act of painting itself, which took over three years; one has to imagine the painter spending hours if not days with each of the figures depicted.  Each one has its own experience.  Each one reputed to be modeled on either a biblical character or contemporary of the painters time.  The painter himself painted playing a Viola de Gamba just down and to the left of the center of the painting where Jesus, the ultimate white male subjective point of reference is holding it all together.  He whose ostensible date of birth provides Western Culture’s shared point of durational reference.  B.C./A.D. 

 If anyone is taking a picture of this picture it is not noticeable.  The distance too far to reflect the flash, but also there is no need somehow, it is already a snap shot, but of course the capturing of an instant that took years to create, to build up in layers of oil on canvas.  The act of painting perhaps not unlike the imagining that I do now to bring back the image of that room in the Louvre.  Bergson talks about taking a ‘leap’ into the past in order to retrieve something and also about the work of the past – ‘translating’ itself to come to bear on the present, ‘rotating’ itself in order to face the present moment and shed some light on it (my metaphor).  I did not know of Bergson when I was in the Louvre three years ago.  I did not have any thought about time in that moment (that I remember) yet now I am able to reach back and from this place between the present perception of these words on my computer screen and bring forward a memory of a place in the Louvre, a set of recollections that once had their own present and I am able to bring that to bear on my current moment, my recent reading of Bergson, my need to write something smart and critical about my work and how it works in the world.  All of these come together in the swirling space of my memory and I am able to bring them up in relation to each other.  Unencumbered by the progression of linear time, these memory-images are able to move into proximity to one another, not literally near in space but actually in time.  The Mona Lisa, my reading of Bergson, a thousand little slices of time that are the flash bulbs of each of those tourists and the historical and fictional times of Jesus at a wedding feast imagined by a 14th Century Italian painter all contracting together in to a point of contact through my very material fingers against the material of this keyboard to take action in this present (which as you read this will actually be a past).

Third Installation YBCA - Gallery San Francisco

Our final installation at Yerba Buena Center for Arts carried with it some of the weight of museum time that I felt in those rooms in the Louvre.  Certainly not on the same scale, the glass and steel of YBCA have only been around for two decades, but nevertheless the resonant frequencies of the gallery there are slower and weightier than the week-by-week oscillations of the theater spaces.  Our residency there was the culmination of many durations of conceiving, proposing, planning, requesting, meeting, responding and receiving.  Discussions had begun in mid 2008 and our performances would begin in 2011.  Being afforded access to the galleries was a challenge that I was looking forward to, even if that access seemed somewhat provisional.  We were allowed unlimited access to the space of the lobby in front of the galleries proper and we could install temporary fixtures (i.e. my bike and its string of lights) in the first entryway to the gallery itself so long as we did not interrupt the view of the art on the walls.  Gallery exhibitions are planned with considerably longer lead times than performances and we would necessarily need to work around the visual art exhibit that had been scheduled for those spaces previously.  My status with Angela Mattox, the performance curator at YBCA, afforded me a lot of generous support.  She went well out of her way to propose collaborative presentation of our work with the directorship of the gallery, but their level of interest in our proposition, my lack of recognition within a visual art frame and the logistical complications of it all precluded much more than our ‘being allowed in’ to the galleries for our short stay.  Having said that, I was still quite pleased.  Previous attempts to jump disciplinary lines had met with less success.  In this installation we would indeed be able to mobilize some of the viewer expectations and habits of the gallery.

Our process for this installation was framed in different concerns than the Uferstudios installation had been.  At this point we had created the stage show, which had met with enthusiastic responses, and our preparations for this installation did not need to multi-task by investigating the material and its possible stage sequencing as before.  I asked each of my collaborators to select three of the images or actions from their own material, considering images and actions that were possible to sustain for at least 1 of the 4 hours.  I also proposed a frame of our beginning in the space on the floor and working with a ‘gazing ‘ score much as we had at the beginning of all of the other iterations of the work.  I also had some ideas of my own as to which images would function particularly well.  The elements of each of our paths can be tracked in the short video trailer of the installation. 

 This pared down set of fewer images and less sequential actions would produce an even more extreme sense of installation time.  We engaged our audiences in both literal and metaphorical conversations and inhibited even further the possibility of seeing our performances as characters or our paths through time as narratives.

As Ellen Diamond reflects using Walter Benjamin’s term:

“…by inhabiting not a character nor a narrative ‘I’ but a dialectical image, the auratic body with all its cultic power is instantiated and destroyed.  Instantiated because its ‘presence’ generates, like all auratic objects, a whole series of pleasurable identifications, fantasies, and ‘natural’ correspondences. […] Destroyed because that body-image is suddenly apprehended as constellated pieces of disparate experience belonging not to the performer but to our cultural junkheap, our collective memory.” (Diamond, 154)

On top of our own images I had the last minute inspiration to purchase 30 more pairs of our fake glasses and make them available to the audience.  This final concept for me brought full circle our work with the relations of our own and the viewers’ gaze and how installation time can allow for a blurring of roles in the performative exchange.  While I would stop short of referring to this blurring of boundaries as a ‘role reversal’ as theater theorist Erika Fischer-Lichte does (Fischer-Lichte, 40) it is clear as you watch the video of the event that the wearing of these glasses confuses the issue of who might be performing for whom.  The glasses literally frame the gaze of the viewer both in terms of calling our attention to their eyes and vision and also framing from their own viewpoint their visual field in the artifice of the object we have provided them.  In the end, although our roles are not ever really in question, these glasses, and the installation time they were used in, perform a very real“ objectifying gaze reducing” as the invitation at their distribution station humorously suggests. 

Our experiments with this material would continue for the next two months after the installation at YBCA, including 8 more stage performances, an installation for a party with 1500 people in attendance and an outdoor installation performance augmented by 16 other San Francisco Artists. Some were more successful than others at engaging audiences’ attention, but the each one was usefully informed by our varying experiments with durations and the utilization and mobilization of spectacle time and installation time.


It takes time to see.  It takes time to feel.  It takes time for you to see me feeling.  It takes time for you to feel me seeing.  Circuits of ‘attentive recognition’ require a different kind of time to build tension to a point where they resonate.  Installation time creates a special state that is different than just looking for the next sensory-motor, cause and effect relation.  Deeper resonance can occur in performance events that the various theorists I’ve cited here call ‘crystalline images’, ‘still acts’, ‘haptic images’ and ‘constellations’ creating ‘attentive recognition visual activism and at least the blurring of subject and object roles in the act of performance.  Saying ‘it takes time’ is not just a poetic invocation of patience and willingness.  In our process, time literally changed the possibilities of perception on a physical level, enabling the performance of the sensory motor patterns of enactive perception that caused perception to be a consciously felt kinesthetic experience. I am not proposing that that slower is always better when it comes to physical performance, but I am proposing that ‘installation time’ affords a reflective viewing experience.  And that in that reflection we may see ourselves and each other in important ways that are not available to us in the moments and durations of ‘spectacle time’.



Benjamin, Walter, and Rolf Tiedemann. The Arcades Project. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1999.

Bergson, Henri. Matter and Memory. Dover Philosophical Classics. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 2004.

Davis, Lennard J. Enforcing Normalcy : Disability, Deafness, and the Body. London ; New York: Verso, 1995.

Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. New York: Zone Books, 1994.

Deleuze, Gilles. Bergsonism. New York: Zone Books, 1988.

---. Cinema 1. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1986.

---. Cinema 2-the Time Image. 2 vols. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1989.

Diamond, Elin. Unmaking Mimesis : Essays on Feminism and Theater. London ; New York: Routledge, 1997.

Fischer-Lichte, Erika. The Transformative Power of Performance : A New Aesthetics. New York: Routledge, 2008.

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. Staring : How We Look. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Gibson, James J. The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems. London,: Allen & Unwin, 1966.

---. The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems. London,: Allen & Unwin, 1968.

Goffman, Erving. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Doubleday Anchor Books, A174. Garden City, N.Y.,: Doubleday, 1959.

Jones, Amelia. Body Art/Performing the Subject. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.

Lepecki, André. Exhausting Dance : Performance and the Politics of Movement. New York ; London: Routledge, 2006.

Marks, Laura U. The Skin of the Film : Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses. Durham: Duke University Press, 2000.

Massumi, Brian. Parables for the Virtual : Movement, Affect, Sensation. Post-Contemporary Interventions. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002.

Miller, William Ian. The Anatomy of Disgust. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997.

Noë, Alva. Action in Perception. Representation and Mind. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004.

On the Body (Guillermo Gómez-Peña)

On the Body (Guillermo Gómez-Peña)

Traditionally, the human body, our body, not the stage, is our true site for creation and materiaprima.It's our empty canvas, musical instrument, and open book; our navigation chart and biographical map; the vessel for our ever-changing identities; the centerpiece of the altar, so to speak. Even when we depend too much on objects, locations, and situations, our body remains the matrix of the piece.

Our body is also the very center of our symbolic universe—a tiny model for humankind (humankind and humanity are the same word in Spanish: humanidad)— and at the same time, a metaphor for the larger sociopolitical body. If we are capable of establishing all these connections in front of an audience, hopefully others will recognize them in their own bodies.

Our scars are (mostly) involuntary words in the open book of our body, whereas our tattoos, piercings, body paint, adornments, performance prosthetics, and/or robotic accessories, are deliberate phrases.
Our body/corpo/arte-facto/identity must be marked, decorated, intervened culturally, mapped out, chronicled, re-politicized, and re-captured by the camera. When our body is ill or wounded, our work inevitably changes. Ron Athey, Franco B and others have made us beautifully aware of this.
Our bodies are also occupied territories. Perhaps the ultimate goal of performance, especially if you are a woman, gay or a person "of color," is to decolonize our bodies and make these decolonizing mechanisms apparent to our audience in the hope that they will get inspired to do the same with their own.


"Dances for Non/Fictional Bodies" exists in a border zone in which dance, performance/installation, process art and Ensemble Theater overlap. It embraces (unapologetically) the acute crisis of genre, representation and authorship currently afflicting all forms of live art including postmodern dance.

The piece is comprised of five individual journeys in search of a shared system, a structure and an order that Curtis does not wish to construct by himself. At times these performance journeys converge in surprising duets, trios or group "moments," which can change in every performance.

The enigmatic ritual actions and powerful live images developed in this process raise all kinds of questions: How to develop a more horizontal and de-centered collaborative model that embraces difference in a non-condescending way? How to contest the problematic notions of physical perfection and virtuosity which are at the core of dance culture? How to challenge the audience's expectations for spectacle and invite them to be 'active spectators,' and behave in a more embodied and responsible way?

Bodily Fiction, Fetish and Fact (Keith Hennessy)

Bodily Fiction, Fetish and Fact (Keith Hennessy)

The stage is filled with the remnants of past performances, stuff that seems to have lost either its meaning or function. Objects from theater prop rooms: mannequin parts, black cubes, an old fridge, a child’s desk, a vintage gurney, a bike, a mirror, and even the kitchen sink, ba da ba. This is the trash of representation, stuff that looks like or evokes or locates… The appearance of the sink suggests a hint of vaudeville, that US American entertainment fusion of dance, comedy, circus, sideshow, and cultural performance. Dances for Non/Fictional Bodies includes all of these elements, but under the influence of contemporary dance and performance these elements are either reduced to abstract essence or maximized into camp excess. The mashup of these tendencies - towards essence or excess - defines the field of play for this team of improvisers.

By referring to the bodies as Non/Fictional, Curtis emphasizes the impossibility of denying the fiction within nonfiction, the imaginary within the real. The slash that interrupts the more commonly used ‘nonfiction’ intervenes on a simple reading of nonfictional as non-imaginary, not-pretend. The bodies in this carefully constructed mess recycle and repurpose objects as easily as personae, changing costumes and attitudes, wigs and positions. In DN/FB the body is real, is a theatrical construction, is a performance, and is an unstable and generative site of production of identities, knowledge and art. Dancers sing, juggle, ride bikes, imitate circus animals, manipulate objects, and dance. Sometimes they do almost nothing, daring us to stare or to question what is real. In their playful experimentation bodies and bodily talents are revealed as well as hidden. Two of the five performers have bodies that might be described as disabled, differently abled, non-normative, crippled or different. Everyone has a crutch, that is, a way of extending themselves with objects, tools, or other people to achieve things they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. These humans seem broken yet undefeated. Together they build a queer world beyond the obvious, the norm, the rule.

The choreography or dramaturgy of this splendid provocation in the guise of a theatrical performance is not obvious. It’s more like a gestalt of performative actions, images and interventions. For most of the work there are multiple simultaneous events. A crisis of representation, of identity, is provoked by this crisis of choreography. The dancers demonstrate both virtuosity and banality. The five performers work alone, in duets and trios. Neither my notes nor memory of this densely layered performance recall any moment when all five were in the same game or image. Structured (and de-structured) by multiplicity, simultaneity, and confusion, DN/FB is chaos-like but not chaotic.

Curtis, Gómez-Peña, and the collaborative performers have crowded this work with obsessions, desires, fears, taboos, fetishes, and archetypes. They’re playing with objects, playing with themselves and each other, playing with us, playing with ideas and representations, playing with identity, playing with bodies, playing with the con/fusion of real and imaginary. This serious and disciplined play informs a wisely crafted choreography of improvisations, situations, and sensations. The work is intended as provocation but does not shy away from entertainment. In the friction between contradictions Curtis and gang have generated significant warmth, raising the social temperature, daring us to playfully disrupt our own bodily fictions.

(Excerpted from a review of a preview of Jess Curtis / Gravity’s Dances for Non/fictional Bodies, February 2010, San Francisco.)

Keith Hennessy is a performance artist, choreographer, teacher and critic. He was born in Canada, lives in San Francisco & improvises internationally.

Press Releases

Press Releases

Click on the links below to download copies of press releases from the project.

From surgically sculpted cyborg sex kittens and chemically enhanced superhuman road warriors to genetically engineered/selected wonder children - our bodies more than ever are shaped and marked by the imagination of higher and higher levels (and narrower definitions) of performance.  Is the body obsolete?  Who decides which bodies are relevant, beautiful, and desirable? Who is imagining the body of the future and how is its (mass) production already affecting us all?

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Press Release

K3 Berlin Press Release

Review - Artburst Miami (Krista Miranda)

Review - Artburst Miami (Krista Miranda)

The Exquisite Chaos of Jess Curtis / Gravity
January 30, 2011
Review: “ Dances for Non/Fictional Bodies” by Krista Miranda

If more performances included a dirge-like parade featuring a man in a bathrobe and a walker, a woman dancing with a reindeer skull, a cellist donning a blue wig and cheetah-print coat, and a couple performing an absurd pas de deux, I would get out more. To adequately describe the exquisite chaos that was Jess Curtis/Gravity’s “Dances for Non/Fictional Bodies,”
— co-presented by Tigertail and the Florida Dance Association on January 28 and 29 at Inkub8 — would be impossible. This piece is so multidimensional that one cannot fully apprehend the simultaneous events. Any summary would also risk flattening this complex work to the sum of its parts. Because the various performance events overlap, and the nonnarrative piece is conceptually driven, the audience is always missing something. My favorite moment is when a pajama-clad Curtis approaches individuals with books
about embodiment and performance to quietly describe passages they “might be interested in.” This perpetual missing, due to both instants of intimacy and moments of disorder, reinforces a central theme: the body can never be fully apprehended.
Jess Curtis/Gravity is a mixed-ability, interdisciplinary company based in San Francisco and Berlin, dedicated to critical engagement through performance. The slash of “Non/Fictional” signals an ambivalence to, or outright distrust of, binary distinctions. Some dichotomies challenged throughout the evening include: art/life (the theater door was often open, welcoming the cacophony of downtown); dance/nondance (why shouldn’t pie eating be considered choreography?); and the real/artificial body (the
performers’ fleshy contours evolve with the costumes and their relationships with one another). The dismantling of this final binary upends traditional understandings of virtuosity and disability, bringing me to my primary criticism, which stems more from the piece’s mission statement—“to see others and to be seen as beautiful, empowered, and autonomous”— than from the performance itself. Since “Dances for…” celebrates difference to de-marginalize variably shaped and abled bodies, why proclaim that all bodies are autonomous? Emphasizing the norm of autonomy is precisely one of the fictions that needs to be exposed, for aren’t all bodies, in some way or another, always prosthetic and inter-dependent?
Although its press release claims otherwise, the performance itself, thankfully, reveals just that. I wanted to hate a scene in the second act where Maria Francesca Scaroni cries because she is forced to put on a fat suit she had removed earlier. I felt this was a too-obvious articulation of beauty ideals. Yet the execution by this captivating performer assuaged my disdain. This level of excellence was shared by all of the seasoned performers, whose commitment to the work’s erratic range from frivolity to seriousness was evident in their emotional and physical virtuosity. The work’s success is also due to Curtis’ equal dedication to both intellectual rigor and aesthetic innovation. A day later, my head still swimming with
images of a toy dinosaur in a vintage refrigerator, Curtis karaoke-singing “Light my Fire” while upside-down in a toilet, Clare Cunningham in a silver space suit, her helmet stuffed with white lights, quotes by Spinoza written on a chalkboard, I am left a bit breathless, a little overwhelmed, and utterly satisfied.

Link to the original article:

Review - Potsdammer Neueste Nachrichten (Astrid Priebs-Tröger)

Review - Potsdammer Neueste Nachrichten (Astrid Priebs-Tröger)

Lustvoll Grenzen überschreitend Deutschlandpremiere von Jess Curtis in der fabrik
Astrid Priebs-Tröger
Potsdammer Neueste Nachrichten

Als die Zuschauer am Freitagabend in die fabrik eingelassen werden, ist vieles anders als sonst. Der Bühnenraum ist hell erleuchtet und fünf Darsteller liegen lange bevor es losgeht, rücklings ausgestreckt auf dem weißen Tanzteppich. Zwischen ihnen stehen vorwiegend weiße Gegenstände, die als Interieur einer Wohnung gelten können. Doch Kühlschrank, Badewanne, Klobecken, Spiegel, Schaufensterpuppe oder Fahrrad könnten auch einfach auf die Straße gestellt worden sein. Man weiß es nicht. Dazu hängen jede Menge Seile über dem Bühnen- und Zuschauerraum, an denen Hände, Stiefel, Schlittschuhe oder Boxhandschuhe befestigt sind, auch eine halbe menschliche Büste liegt im Publikumsbereich.

Was dann in den nächsten zwei Stunden passiert, kann man am ehesten als lustvoll grenzüberschreitendes Laboratorium charakterisieren. Der amerikanische Performancekünstler und Choreograf Jess Curtis kennt keine Berührungsängste. Für seine Produktion „Dances for non/fictional bodies“, die am Freitag in der fabrik Deutschlandpremiere feierte, hat er ein internationales Team aus Verwandlungskünstlern und Rollenspielern, multidisziplinären Performern, die im Tanz genauso wie im klassischen Gesang zu Hause sind, als auch Zirkusartisten und Musiker (Matthias Herrmann) versammelt. Diese sechs Künstler gehen, wie man im Programmheft nachlesen kann, in ihrem mehrteiligen Projekt, zu dem auch Filmvorführungen und Diskussionen gehören, unter anderem der Frage nach, „wie unsere Vorstellungen und unsere Körper aufeinander einwirken?“ Curtis interessiert dabei nicht nur der „perfekte“ menschliche Körper, sondern er arbeitet auch in diesem Projekt gleichberechtigt mit Menschen, die von der sogenannten Norm abweichen, zusammen.

Die britische Tänzerin Claire Cunnigham, die als fragiler schwarzer Schwan an Krücken 2008 das Publikum bei den Potsdamer Tanztagen begeisterte, gehört jetzt zu Curtis Truppe und zeigt einmal mehr, wie wenig die Klischees über Menschen mit Behinderungen der Wirklichkeit standhalten. Es ist zudem viel spannender und berührender Cunnighams Bewegungen mit und ohne Krücken zuzuschauen, als das endlose Radeln von Curtis durchtrainiertem Körper auf einem Standfahrrad zu folgen oder ihn beim Gewichtheben zu beobachten.

Das Spiel mit Geschlechterrollen und –identitäten beherrschen Maria Francesca Scaroni und Bridge Markland meisterlich, die auf offener Szene zwischen männlich und weiblich, hässlich oder verführerisch wechseln. Das alles geht ineinander über, sodass es schwer fällt, sich im Einzelnen daran zu erinnern. Viele Verwandlungen geschehen zeitgleich, haben direkt nichts miteinander zu tun und ergeben schon gar keine Geschichte mit rotem Faden. Stattdessen ist man Zeuge unzähliger paralleler Sequenzen, die sich wie ein verrückt-rotierender Traum anfühlen.

Curtis selbst zeigt immer wieder seinen Modell-Körper, um ihn wenig später sekundenschnell altern zu lassen, indem er in Bademantel und Schlafanzug mittels Gehhilfe zum Klobecken schlurft. Und wenn er dann kopfüber in diesem steckt und dazu „Light my Fire“ von „the Doors“ eingespielt wird, ist das komisch und irritierend zugleich, aber nicht zu erklären. Genauso wie, wenn Claire Cunnigham großartig Bachs Kantate „Christ lag in Todesbanden“ singt und dabei mit Kopfschutz, wie ihn Boxer tragen, in der Badewanne sitzt.

Auch all die anderen „Experimente“ von Jörg Müller, der mal einen Striptease hinlegt oder mit einem Plüschhasen als übermächtigem Geschlechtsteil auftritt, blitzen kurz auf, hinterlassen aber wenig Spuren. Die vielen im Programm geäußerten Fragen verschwinden hinter der atmosphärisch dichten, surreal anmutenden Performance mit vielen überraschenden Bildern, die an einigen Stellen aber leider überfrachtet und auch insgesamt etwas zu lang geraten ist.

Astrid Priebs-Tröger

Link to the Original Review:

Review - Danza Ballet (Juan Carlos Tellechea)

Review - Danza Ballet (Juan Carlos Tellechea)

El reino de lo posible traspone fronteras 

(See below for English Translation)

Juan Carlos Tellechea (Berlín) Danza Ballet 12.16.10

En la lejanía se oye un trinar de pájaros y el ladrido de un perro...De pronto los altavoces de la sala se saturan con el sonido de una respiracion humana. Primero una, después dos...tres, cuatro, cinco personas yacen sobre el piso. Una mujer cubierta con un equipo de asbesto antifuego se suma a la escena. Con dos muletas en posición horizontal haciendo de pinzas sostiene la figura en miniatura de un dinosaurio de plástico que deposita sobre un antiguo icono ruso representando a la Virgen y el Niño...


Desde un primer instante el espectador queda absorto, atrapado por lo que ocurre en escena sin posibilidad de escapar. Con restos de utilería de otras puestas, el coreógrafo estadounidense Jess Curtis (director artístico de la compañía Gravity), quien vive alternativamente entre San Francisco y Berlín desde 1995, y el chicano Guillermo Gómez-Peña (responsable artístico de La Pocha Nostra/San Francisco) logran montar una obra de enorme fuerza metafórica y poética.

Lejos de los circuitos convencionales, en un recinto artístico del off Berlin, mientras afuera la gélida noche invernal del 16 de diciembre cubría con un espeso manto de nieve las calles del distrito multicultural de Wedding, y como si de una máquina del tiempo se tratara, la pieza traslada a la platea a otra época, a otro mundo, durante 120 minutos que parecen 30 (intermedio incluído), porque se pierde casi la noción del espacio y del lapso transcurrido desde el comienzo del espectáculo.

photo by

Con gran habilidad se combinan aquí elementos circenses, de la danza moderna, de la música clásica, tecno y pop, con las atracciones del teatro de variedades para transmitir con un lenguaje fresco y directo mensajes profundamente punzantes que trasponen fronteras y atañen a los problemas más acuciantes, no resueltos aún, de la sociedad actual.

Dances for Non/Fictional Bodies muestra cuerpos desnudos con total naturalidad, sin pruritos, para descomprimir engañosas apariencias, desarticular falsos conceptos de estilización, rebatir falaces definiciones de la belleza manipuladas por influyentes medios masivos de comunicación y agencias de relaciones públicas. Pero también aborda la depredación de la naturaleza, y conduce a la reflexión sobre asuntos tan universales como el amor, la muerte, la lucha e inmolación por la libertad, la consagración a causas humanistas.

Curtis y Gómez-Peña se han rodeado además de un grupo de artistas polifacéticos de gran talento procedentes de cinco países, como el compositor y violonchelista Matthias Herrmann, las actrices Claire Cunningham (una excelente voz lírica), Maria Francesca Scaroni y Bridge Markland, así como el actor Jörg Müller para poner en escena esta pieza experimental consagrada al hallazgo de nuevas posibilidades, a la superación de las rígidas normas sociales que impiden el desarrollo individual y la otredad.

La pieza, estrenada con gran éxito en Potsdam (Alemania) en noviembre, llevada después a Liverpool (Inglaterra) antes de ser traída a Berlín en diciembre, continúa ahora su gira por Estados Unidos: 13, 14 y 15 de enero Special Preview Installations en el gran foyer de YBCA /Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, en San Francisco; 28 y 29 de enero en Miami (Florida) Preview Performances at Winterfest; del 3 al 6 de febrero Theatrical World Premiere at the Forum at YBCA/San Francisco; y el 10 de febrero Community Chorur Installations at YBCA Gardens/San Francisco.

Además, tendrán lugar discusiones, clases y actividades varias relacionadas con estas presentaciones en las siguientes entidades: Florida Dance Association, AXIS dance, Cal State East Bay, UC Berkeley y UC Davis.


View the original:


The Realm of the Possible Transposes boundaries 

by Juan Carlos Tellechea (Berlín) for Danza Ballet, December 16, 2010

In the distance you hear a chirping of birds and the barking of a dog ... Suddenly the speakers in the room are saturated with the sound of human breathing. First one, then two ... three, four, five people lying on the floor. A woman covered with a fireproof asbestos suit adds to the scene. With two horizontal crutches making clamps holding the miniature figure of a plastic dinosaur deposited on an ancient Russian icon depicting the Madonna and Child ... 

From the first moment the viewer is absorbed, trapped by what happens on stage with no possibility of escape. Utility remains of other proposals, American choreographer Jess Curtis (artistic director of the company Gravity), who lives alternately between San Francisco and Berlin since 1995 and the Chicano Guillermo Gómez-Peña (artistic director of La Pocha Nostra / San Francisco ) manage to mount a work of enormous metaphorical and poetic force. 

Far from conventional circuits in the off scene of artistic Berlin, the streets of the multicultural district of Wedding were covered with a thick blanket of snow on the icy winter night of December 16.  Like a time machine, the piece moves the audience to another time, another world, for 120 minutes that seem 30 (middle included), because you lose almost the notion of space and time elapsed since the start of the show.

The piece skillfully combines circus elements here, modern dance, classical music, techno and pop, with the attractions of the music hall to convey a fresh and direct language deeply poignant messages that are crossing borders and the problems regarding pressing, still unresolved in today's society. 

Dances for Non / Fictional shows naked bodies matter-of-factly, without flinching,  to expose deceptive appearances, disrupt misconceptions, refute false definitions of beauty manipulated by influential mass media and public relations agencies. But also addresses the depletion of natural resources and leads to reflection on such universal issues as love, death, struggle and sacrifice for freedom, the commitment to human causes. 

Curtis and Gomez-Peña have been surrounded by a well-rounded group of highly talented artists from five countries, including the composer and cellist Matthias Herrmann, actresses Claire Cunningham (an excellent lyrical voice), Maria Francesca Scaroni and Bridge Markland and Jörg Müller as the actor to stage this experimental work devoted to finding new opportunities, to overcome the rigid social norms that hinder individual development and otherness.