Program Type: 
Jess Curtis/Gravity

Dances for Non/Fictional Bodies

February 03, 2011 - February 06, 2011
YBCA Forum


World Premiere

"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? " — Jess Curtis

Dances for Non/Fictional Bodies is a 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 to be seen as beautiful, empowered, and autonomous. The piece challenges our widely-held ideals of beauty based on socially imagined perfections of form that rarely exist in actual bodies and alternately celebrates the unique beauty in the idiosyncrasy of each individual performer. For this new work, Bay Area choreographer Jess Curtis has gathered an all-star collaborative team from six countries including dramaturg/provocateur Guillermo Gomez-Peña (SF/Mexico) Composer/Musician Matthias Hermann (Germany), and performers Maria Francesca Scaroni (Berlin/Italy), Claire Cunningham (Glasgow), Jörg Müller (France), Bridge Markland (Berlin).

Dances for Non/Fictional Bodies has been commissioned by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (San Franisco), DaDaFest International (Liverpool, UK), Fabrik Potsdam (Potsdam, Germany), TigerTail Productions/Florida Dance Association (Miami) and the National Performance Network.

A Note from the Director

"This piece is undertaking a number of projects.

We have been asking ourselves questions about how our imaginations and our bodies interact? How does the way we imagine our bodies shape and change both their cultural relevance and their material actuality? How do our bodies shape our imaginations? Can re–imagining our bodies and re–embodying our imaginations be useful tools for making society more open, just and satisfying for us all?

Our laboratory is a meeting of diverse bodies and performance practices. The range of sizes, shapes and styles of training that make up our bodies is broader than in many "dance" based companies. Our differences force us to question the ways we imagine ourselves and each other and to imagine and negotiate new ways of dancing and playing together, not just in spite of, but actually in celebration of those differences.

At the same time this Project is an experiment in collaborative process. What kind of non–hierarchical and decentralized structures can we use to create a performance work that mobilizes the full imaginative capacities of a diverse creative team? Can this type of decentralized collaborative process be satisfying to all the members of the artistic team and create a satisfying experience for an audience?

How can we meaningfully invite you, the audience and your very real bodies into the collaboration of sensing and making sense that is the work and play of performance?

We hope to answer some of these questions."

— Jess Curtis

A Note from the Dramturge/Provocateur

"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 and often duets, trios or group "moments," which change in every performance.

The amazing material being developed during this process raises 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?

The ultimate question is: Is it possible to translate this dangerous process within the conventions of a theater? You are up for a big surprise. Enjoy."

— Guillermo Gomez–Peña

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  • Jess Curtis/Gravity: Performance Installation
    January 13, 2011 – January 15, 2011
    4:00 pm - 8:00 pm
    Grand Lobby

    We’re proud to welcome back Jess Curtis/Gravity with a new, multi-faceted performance project entitled Dances for Non/Fictional Bodies — a piece that will permeate YBCA campus throughout January and February. The residency launches with series of live installation performances taking place outside of the conventional performance spaces including the Grand Lobby. This new work examines 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 to be seen as beautiful, empowered, and autonomous. Encounter this material in advance of the Forum performances February.

  • Jess Curtis/Gravity
    February 3, 2011 – February 6, 2011
    8:00 pm
    YBCA Forum
  • Community Performance Installation
    Feb 10, 2011 12:00pm – 3:00pm
    Yerba Buena Gardens

    The third component of this multi-faceted performance project is a Community Performance Installation. A group of professional and non-professional performers will create “invisible theater,” or events that leave one questioning whether an act is staged or simply a part of the ordinary-extraordinary public goings-on during the lunch time hour.

    In addition to using performance material from Gravity’s theatrical work Dances for Non/Fictional Bodies, Gravity Artistic Director Jess Curtis, members of Gravity, and DNFB dramturge/provocateur , Guillermo Gomez-Peña will work with community participants to craft images and performance actions that stimulate questions regarding our cultural ideas of what comprises a “normal” body, and how we see bodies that are ‘other’ than our own, especially in public space. We invite you to come and “happen upon” these provocative dioramas and become both “accidental audiences” and potential performers as part of the larger visual landscape of the Yerba Buena Gardens and YBCA.

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Curator Statement

As part of my curatorial vision, I have a commitment to invest in long-term relationships with artists, which provides a firm foundation for experimentation, and offers audiences an opportunity to experience a trajectory of an artist’s work over several years. I’m thrilled to welcome back Jess Curtis/Gravity to YBCA with Dances for Non-Fictional Bodies. For this YBCA commissioned project, we decided to go deeper than the standard weekend of performances, and have collaborated to create a multi-faceted, month long residency at YBCA that explores the questions and material in Dances for Non-Fictional Bodies through various frameworks.

The different facets of Dances for Non-Fictional Bodies invite the audience into the artistic process. With interventions in our lobby that embrace audiences as part of the performance installation, to the formalized performances in the Forum, to an outdoor site specific installation that invites non-professional performances to join, this unique, participatory performance project is a cornerstone program in our investigation of the Big Idea DARE: Innovations in Art, Action, Audience. This thematic idea focuses on projects that integrate art and audience in rigorous, imaginative ways and looks at how artists like Jess Curtis are rethinking conventions and experimenting with the role of the audience and challenges the notion of who gets to perform. The DARE thematic idea also serves as a larger metaphor for how we at YBCA view the role of our audience. We want the audience to be an active participant, not simply a viewer.

— Angela Mattox, Performing Arts Curator, YBCA
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Artist Bio

After 15 years of making dance in the Bay Area as an independent choreographer, Jess Curtis founded Gravity in 2000 as a research and development vehicle for very live performance. Gravity aspires to the creation of exceptionally engaging body–based art that explores and addresses issues and ideas of substance and relevance to a broad popular public. Since its inception, Curtis and Gravity collaborators have created six full–length works and a number of shorter pieces; collaborated with numerous theaters and co–producers in the U.S. and Europe; and performed at home in San Francisco and on tour in over 50 cities in 14 countries. Called "the kind of intelligent, evocative dance–theatre … that delights you at the time of watching, then lingers on to make you think afresh…" by Mary Brennan of the Glasgow Herald, Gravity's work has been recognized with several Isadora Duncan Dance (IZZIE) Awards — the most prestigious honor offered for dance in the Bay Area — most recently winning "Best Choreography," "Best Company Performance," and sharing the award for "Best Music/Text/Sound," for its 2007 production "Under the Radar." The company also received a prestigious ‘Fringe First' award at the 2002 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Gravity's work Symmetry Study #7 was included in three San Francisco critics' Top Ten lists for 2008.

Jess Curtis (Concept/Director/Performer)
Jess Curtis lives and works in both San Francisco and Berlin. He has created a body of work ranging from the underground extremes of Mission District warehouses with Contraband and CORE (1985–1998) to the formal refinement and exuberance of European State Theatres and Circus Tents with Compagnie Cahin–Caha and Jess Curtis/Gravity (1998–present). Curtis has collaborated with the renowned fabrikCompanie in Potsdam, Germany to create the award–winning fallen, and has been commissioned to create works for companies such as Artblau in Germany, ContactArt in Italy, Blue Eyed Soul Dance Company in the UK, and Croi Glan Integrated Dance in Ireland. Curtis and Gravity received three Isadora Duncan Dance awards for Under the Radar in the categories of "Choreography" "Music/Text" and "Company Performance", bringing to a total of six the "Izzie's" that Curtis and Gravity have received. Gravity has been a regular recipient of support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the City of San Francisco's Grants for the Arts and Cultural Equity programs, and has received commissioning support on several occasions from the city of Berlin. He also teaches Dance, Contact Improv and Interdisciplinary Performance throughout the US and Europe, and has been a visiting professor at UC Berkeley, and the University of the Arts in Berlin. He holds an MFA in choreography and is currently pursuing a PhD in Performance Studies at UC Davis.

Guillermo Gomez–Peña (Dramaturg/Provocateur)
Guillermo Gomez–Peña is a performance artist/writer and the director of the art collective La Pocha Nostra. He was born in Mexico City and came to the United States in 1978. Since then he has been exploring cross–cultural issues with the use of performance, multilingual poetry, journalism, video, radio, and installation art. His performance work and eight books have contributed to the debates on cultural diversity, identity, and US– Mexico relations. His artwork has been presented at over seven hundred venues across the United States, Canada, Latin America, Europe, Russia and Australia. A MacArthur Fellow and American Book Award winner, he is a regular contributor to National Public Radio, a writer for newspapers and magazines in the US, Mexico, and Europe and a contributing
editor to The Drama Review (NYU–MIT).

Matthias Hermann (Musical Director/Composer/Performer)
Matthias Hermann studied cello with Rudolf Mandalka at the Robert Schumann Hochschule, Düsseldorf, Germany. He has created numerous award–winning scores for the productions of international dance theatre companies including Do Theater St. Petersburg, Russia), Fabrik Company (Potsdam, Germany), Howard Katz (Berlin/New York) and Jess Curtis/Gravity (San Francisco/Berlin). As a founding member of PostHolocaustPop, a collaborative Art–Band with Howard Katz and Ansgar Tappert, he is touring internationally and has released numerous CDs. Most recently he created soundscapes for video installations, music for short film, and also composed the score for a theatrical reading of the LiteraturWERKstatt Berlin in 2004. He is also involved in other artistic collaborations with Paul Beiersdorf, Stephanie Maher and Kathleen Hermesdorf, FormVollEndeT, Mangrove Kipling, and various musical formations including Die Krassnajas and MoarkoVentent.

Claire Cunningham (Performer/Collaborator)
Claire Cunningham is a multi–disciplinary performer and choreographer based in Glasgow. Originally a classically–trained singer, she began to work in dance in 2005, after working with Jess Curtis, who kindled her interest in movement and specifically in her own potential for movement work. This led to her pursuing her own training with various practitioners, including a mentorship with Bill Shannon (aka The Crutchmaster) and training in elements of his own Shannon technique. Over the following years she has developed her own movement vocabulary based on the use of crutches, and with a resulting interest in realizing her own choreographic ideas — often rooted in the use/misuse, study and distortion of crutches. Her recent work includes a critically acclaimed run of her show ME (Mobile/Evolution) at the 2009 Edinburgh Festival Fringe which earned Cunningham a Herald Angel Award. (ME is a double bill of two solo works — combining dance, text, aerial and visual art.)

Jörg Müller (Performer/Collaborator)
Jörg Müller, jongleur, graduated in 1994 from the Centre National des Arts du Cirque in Ch&acaron;lons en Champagne, France. While there he created «mobile » a movement/manipulation work utilizing suspended resonant tubes. In 2005 he started « gravity reference drawings » while balancing a broom. With Jess Curtis he created « Performance Research Experiment #1 », a performance between circus and dance and « Under the Radar » in 2008. In 2008 he created his latest tube work « noustube », an invitation for several artists to create their performance in a 9 ft. tall glass tube filled with water. As a circus artist he has toured extensively with Cirque Plume, Compagnie Cahin–Caha in « chiencrU », and is touring with Martin Schwietzke in « Passage Désemboité » and Compagnie Anomalie's « Mister Monster » in 2010. His path has equally included work with a number of choreographers. Notably in the works of Pierre Doussaint, Francois Verret, Haim Adri, Kitsou Dubois, Julie Nioche, Jess Curtis and Mark Tompkins. Since 2006 he is a Feldenkrais Practitioner.

Maria Francesca Scaroni (Performer/Collaborator)
Maria Francesca Scaroni (Performer/Collaborator) is an Italian choreographer and performer, currently living and working in Berlin. After dancing in Italian TV productions (Canale 5, Rai 2), she trained and worked with Manuela Bondavalli Danza (1998/2004), a collaboration that rooted her dance practice in Release Technique and Contact Improvisation. Scaroni trained independently, studying as a freelancer in Europe and in the United States. She has been collaborating with Jess Curtis/Gravity since 2004 (Berlin/San Francisco) as performer, teacher and choreographer. Since 2006 Scaroni has also performed in works by San Francisco choreographer–master–pioneer Sara Shelton Mann. In Berlin she works as collaborator/performer with Julia Reinartz, Friederike Plafki and the gallery–based collective Bridge on a Wall, and is part of an improvisation–based group that was instigated by Meg Stuart and Jeremy Wade.
Scaroni holds a Masters degree in Contemporary Literature, with a focus on Media and Communication and a thesis on education and dance. She is lately very intrigued with the topics of presence, physical states, mediation and transmission.

Bridge Markland
The Berlin dance–theatre–cabaret–performance–artist is a virtuoso of roleplay and transformation. A chameleon who throws herself into many extremes, but isn't merely limited to one of them. She is an artist who effortlessly crosses all boundaries between sub– and high–culture, dance, theatre, cabaret, performance, clowning and erotic–art. Her speciality are transgender–performances in which the audience can experience the change of woman to man (or vice versa).
Other focus areas are: one woman shows with puppets and pop music of classic German plays, site specific dance improvisation, interacting with audiences, collaborations with other artists, writing, a show with saxophone player Nikola Lutz — of spectacular gender transformations, saxophone music, dance in the audience, feeding of fruit, erotic texts.
Bridge Markland has perfomed her work all over Europe, in USA and Australia.

Dances for Non/Fictional Bodies was made possible in part by a grant from The Creative Work Fund, a program of the Walter and Elise Haas Fund supported by generous grants from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and The James Irvine Foundation.

Dances for Non/Fictional Bodies was funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and by the National Dance Project of the New England Foundation for the Arts , with lead funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and additional funding from Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Community Connections Fund of the MetLife Foundation.

YBCA's programs are made possible in part by:
The San Francisco Foundation
National Endowment for the Arts
Koret Foundation
Adobe Foundation Fund

YBCA Performance 10–11 is made possible in part by:
The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Additional Funding for YBCA Performance 10–11:
Zellerbach Family Foundation, New England Foundation for the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, and Members of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts