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Jess Curtis and CounterPulse

Award: $35,000 Performing Arts grant awarded 2006

Premiered: March 2007, Counterpulse

Can two people’s limitations or “dis-abilities” combine to become virtuosic? When do our skills become liabilities? Under the Radar–a collaboration among dance artist Jess Curtis, CounterPulse, and disabled and non-disabled dancers working in movement-based performance media–raised and addressed these questions. The piece studied the physical limitations and abilities of a range of very different performers, using the vocabularies of contemporary dance, partner-based acrobatics, contact dance, aerial performance and physical theater.

The collaboration came at a time when CounterPulse was working to reach out to communities of physical diversity and did so through through the performances of Under the Radar and workshops and events surrounding it. Curtis’s collaborators included composer Matthais Hermann, dramaturge Gabi Beier, disabled dance artist and activist Kaz Langley, and the members of Curtis’s company, Gravity.

Under the Radar premiered to great acclaim at CounterPULSE in March 2007 and went on to receive three Isadora Duncan Dance Awards—for choreography, company performance, and music/sound/text. It also succeeded at bringing new attention to CounterPulse’s capacity as a regional center for disabled performing artists.

Living and working in San Francisco since 1984, Jess Curtis has created a body of work ranging from the underground extremes of Mission District warehouse with Contraband (1985-1994) to the formal refinement of European state theaters with Jess Curtis/Gravity (2000-present). Prior to this project, Curtis had had several opportunities to use Contact Improvisation and Aerial Dance as teaching and performance tools for persons with disabilities in England and France.

CounterPULSE provides space and resources for low-income and emerging artists, acting as a catalyst for the creation of original, socially-relevant art and grassroots cultural experimentation by artists, activists, and community builders. It was founded in 1992 as 848 Community Space.