January 30, 2011 Review: “ Dances for Non/Fictional Bodies”
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 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.