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Curtis Induces a Lovely Vertigo.

Gravity Physical Entertainment ODC Theater San Francisco, California February 7-16, 2002

These days choreographer Jess Curtis lives in Berlin, when he's not traipsing around the French countryside with Cahin-Caha, the French nouveau circus that packed them in for four solid weeks in San Francisco last year. In Berlin he runs his company, Gravity Physical Entertainment, for which he created fallen, an uneven but richly detailed work that explores issues of vulnerability and frailty. Intriguingly, in German "fallen" is a verb; in English it's an adjective, too. One refers to doing, the other to being. Action and images do try to hold each other up in this American-German collaboration. But it's the images that keep the piece afloat. Too much of the dancing, particularly in the ensemble numbers, is so generalized that instead of getting individuality, we are stuck with generics.

Still, Curtis has come a long way since his days with CONTRABAND, whose style was more characterized by energetic robustness than by fallen's elegance and restraint. A few of the dozen or so loosely connected episodes spoke with humor. In one, a table balanced overhead threatened to take off like a wayward balloon; in a game of puppetry, the walking fingers kept sliding off a precarious ledge. But for the most part fallen's tone stayed muted. At first turning in isolation, four dancers looked like escapees from an Edward Hopper painting when they paired up for some social dancing. Curtis, curled up and head down, was suspended from a rope; he seemed to be waiting, maybe a fetus about to be born, maybe just a body about to fall. An escalating game of tit-for-tat left one of two partners in suspended animation, holding the object of contention--a fragile egg--in his hand.

Some of the falling props--feathers, a shoe, a sausage--served mostly as slightly superfluous exclamation points in an otherwise excellent visual design. Its key element was a set of elaborate gold picture frames, hanging empty, except for one, inside of which sat a cellist. These frames periodically filled up as Curtis placed various scenes inside them. Initially their emptiness was eerily echoed by the outlines of four bodies chalked onto the floor. As dancers begin to fill these shapes, trying them on like skins and rocking them back to life, the outlines began to blur. The rising dust was not unlike that which we have seen too much in recent months. One of fallen's most moving solos was Curtis slithering snakelike through this ashen material, turning his body into a ghostly image of itself. Fallen's last image is coolly analytical in the way it presents perspectives on falling; one body is suspended in midair, another you watch birdlike from the top (tied to ropes, a dancer walks across the back wall), and the third one is a nude woman standing on her head, who has hit the ground.

The four excellent dancers in addition to Curtis were Sabine Chwalisz, Anise Smith, Sven Till (alternating with Paul Benney), and Wolfgang Hoffman. Fallen wouldn't work without its rich and complexly layered sound score, played live on cello and electronically generated by Matthias Herrmann.
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Title Annotation:Jess Curtis
Author:Felciano, Rita
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2002
Words:521
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