Choreographer Jess Curtis updates ‘Research’ 

click to enlarge Jess Curtis
  • Jess Curtis, left, and Jörg Müller appear in “Performance Research Experiment #2.2.”
The fact that most people in the Western world aren’t aware of what’s going on with their bodies most of the time is a topic that piqued the interest of choreographer Jess Curtis — so much that he used it as the basis of research for a graduate degree in dance.

The result was a cabaretlike dance/performance piece (presented here and in Germany) consisting of what the San Francisco- and Berlin-based artist calls “performance actions.”

His troupe Jess Curtis/Gravity updates the work in the new “Performance Research Experiment 2.2,” opening Thursday at the Joe Goode Annex in The City.

In his first version, the actions ranged from mundane — rolling a ball across the stage — to humorous, and even slightly shocking.

To make viewers conscious of their physical reactions as they watched, he solicited volunteers from the audience who were hooked up to a galvanic skin-response machine (which measures things like sweaty palms and indicates the sympathetic nervous system’s affective or emotional reaction to the intensity of what is observed) and a heart monitor.

The readout from the machines was displayed on a screen beside the stage.

“We’re trying to show that when we simply walk onstage and stand, that already shifts the audience’s physiology. By calling that to people’s attention we get them to align with that experience,” Curtis says.

Bugs have been worked out in the new piece, which is half the length of the original version, and better focused.

“And we adjusted the GSR machine to provide a more clear narrative of what you see. The entire audience can see the subjects’ visceral responses to each act, and their heart rate. It creates a triangle of attention — watching what’s happening onstage, the data and one’s own reactions,” Curtis says.

Much of Curtis’ choreographic sensibility has been cultivated through his extensive work in contact improvisation.

In “2.2,” as with his earlier work, the movement evolves out of the relationship between people moving, engaging with, or observing each other.

“Being in any performance situation is a kind of contact,” Curtis says. “Even when we’re just sitting and watching, especially in the proximity of a small theater like the one we’re performing in. We feel each other in a different way. It’s better than watching TV on a screen.”


Performance Research Experiment #2.2

Presented by Jess Curtis/Gravity

Where: Joe Goode Annex, 401 Alabama St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday

Tickets: $15 to $20

Contact: (800) 838-3006,

About The Author

Andrea Pflaumer

Andrea Pflaumer

Andrea Pflaumer is a Berkeley-based author and journalist and former dancer who writes dance and arts previews for the San Francisco Examiner. She has just published her first book: Shopping for the Real You.
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