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Arts + CultureMusicArts Forecast: Remembering Jess Curtis

Arts Forecast: Remembering Jess Curtis

The groundbreaking dance-maker passed suddenly this week. Plus: St. Patrick's Day events, CCA MFA expo, Scourge of Worlds, more.

The very sad news came this week that one of the most vital forces of local dance, Jess Curtis, passed away suddenly from a cardiac event while biking through there Presidio with a friend. Solo and with his Jess Curtis/Gravity company, Jess was a constant innovator in queer and accessibility-oriented arts, constantly exploring and teaching what it means to be present in the bodies we inhabit.

As a founder of 848 Community Space in 1991 (which gave rise to CounterPulse) and through his continued work with queer elders and people with disabilities, he leaves a lasting and heroic mark on the local arts community. (If you still have Facebook, the outpouring of love and memories on his profile is beautiful.) He had, in the words of fellow local dance-maker Jesse Hewit, “a very powerful and weird and specific light.”

Jess’ most recently presented work was the immersive “Into the Dark,” performed by his company in complete darkness, which put audiences and dancers in the position of those who navigate the world without sight. (“A choreographic sound sculpture, exploring the physical, subconscious, and literal effects of Western culture’s binary mythologizing of darkness and light,” as 48 Hills dance writer Mary Carbonara described it.)

As Curtis, who held a PhD in perception and performance, told us last year, “I love the feel of a dance from the inside. I think there’s so much that audiences miss when they’re far away and only have access to what they see. By de-centering our visual experience, we have a lot more space for dreaming and imagining, with each person having their own perceptions.”

Jess Curtis. Photo by Sven Hagolani

Curtis had long centered disabled access in his work, and his theme was often a futurity beyond the (queer) body—or, as he called it in an interview with 48 Hills arts writer Emily Wilson in 2018, “post-human radical inclusivity.” He devoted his artistic life to opening up dance to new audiences that had previously not felt welcome in the theater: “I grew up a nice middle-class white kid. I thought, ‘Oh, wait, there are so many things in my life that have been excluding so many people in different ways.'”

But he also had an impish side that shone through—he told people that he “ran away to join the circus” at age 37 when he joined Compagnie Cahin-Caha in France (he spent much of his time in Europe), and joked that “blind people and people with visual impairments have the right to experience theater they don’t like, just like anyone else.” I adored his renegade queer dances, including priceless street “ice/car/cage,” presented in 1998 as part of the late Lesbian and Gay Dance Festival, danced with his friend Jules Beckman and Keith Hennessy. In it, a junky old car drives itself around in circles while the trio flips over and around it; a block of ice is introduced, leading to surprisingly erotic configurations.

Early on, Jess and his friends discovered that “dance” didn’t have to mean just one thing. “We thought, ‘We can talk onstage even if we’re dancers. We can play music and sing and dance and do whatever we want…'” That freedom and inclusivity (as well as some damned great dancing) will be his legacy in San Francisco and beyond.

EVENTS OF NOTE

THU/14-MARCH 28: CCA MFA EXHIBITION, PART ONE Come out and see what the grad students of CCA are turning out—I have made so many wonderful discoveries (and friends) attending these. Part One features Molly Barker, Seven Chen, Chrissa Chorvat, Lynse A. Cooper, Carrie Han, Peipei Li, Jason Stern, Gene VanWyk, Willow (陈柳静), Xiaohan Zhou. Opening Reception Thu/14, 5pm-8pm, CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, SF. More info here.

FRI/15: THE HOOKS San Francisco’s United Irish Cultural Center goes all out for the holiday, naturally, with several night of music and festivities. Kicking it all off is this lauded Celtic rock quartet from County Sligo, who have been performing together for more than two decades. 6pm, United Irish Cultural Center, SF. More info here.

FRI/15 & SAT/16: OBJECT COLLECTION: ROBERT ASHLEY’S “AUTOMATIC WRITING” AND MORE “The Lab presents live renditions and reimaginings of two works recorded by the Robert Ashley at the recently shuttered Center for Contemporary Music (CCM) at Mills College while he was the director there in the 1970s. Known for his creation of the ‘Made-for-TV Opera’ Perfect Lives, commissioned by The Kitchen and the BBC, Ashley left an enormous impact on composers and artists regarding performance practice, camp aesthetics in cinema, collaboration, electronic systems, and the role of language in contemporary American musical landscapes.” 8pm, The Lab, SF. More info here.

SAT/16: GRACE CATHEDRAL SOUND BATH Immerse yourself in the ambient sounds of musicians Egemen Sanli, Phoenix Song, Sam Jackson, and special guest musician Destani Wolf aka “Fractals of Sound” as they take over the cathedral’s sacred space for a soul-cleansing experience. You can lie down! 7pm, Grace Cathedral, SF. More info here.

SAT/16: SHAMROCK SHAKE DAYGER The only thing better than partying in an Irish pub is partying on an Irish pub. Trinity Pub on San Francisco’s Union Street opens its expansive rooftop for drinks, while DJs bang out some good ol’ dance tunes downstairs. Noon-8pm, Trinity Irish Bar & Restaurant, SF. More info here.

SUN/17: BAY PHILHARMONIC CELTIC CELEBRATION Step dancers! Scottish fiddlers! Singers! Storytellers! And a 50-piece orchestra? Artistic director and conductor Jung-Ho Pak and his players dive into Celtic culture for a rousing St. Patrick’s Day celebration. 3pm, Chabot College Performing Arts Center, Hayward. More info here.

SUN/17: A TRIBUTE TO SHANE MCGOWAN You get even more of Irish band the Hooks, as well as The Quiet Man and the General in this powerhouse concert celebrating The Pogues’ infamous frontman and Irish musical hero Shane, which passed away last year. 6:30pm, Bottom of the Hill, SF. More info here.

SUN/17: DAYTIME REALNESS MARCHSOMMAR The daytime drag party launched by Heklina (RIP) revs up for another season of patio madness at El Rio, with host Nicki Jizz and DJs Digital Kitkat & Freaky Emo of Club Popperz. Wig out. 2pm-8pm, El Rio, SF. More info here.

SUN/17: MEDIA MELTDOWN MOVIE MADNESS: SCOURGE OF WORLDS Drag meets Dungeons and Dragons? I am in. “The maniacal minds behind Media Meltdown (Piranha Psychotronica and Kafka X) bring you a new experience in cinematic depravity… Media Meltdown Movie Madhouse! First up? Join us St. Paddy’s Day for a decidedly not Irish movie… the Direct-to-DVD “Select Thine Own Journey”-style film The Scourge of Worlds: A Dungeons & Dragons Adventure (2003)! Your hosts will lead the audience through the multiple winding paths of this insane early attempt at a DND movie. Don’t worry, you won’t have to know anything about dungeons or dragons… or think very hard about the weight of your choices… the filmmakers certainly didn’t! But luckily for you, they did provide us the fodder for an extremely unique movie-going experience you aren’t going to want to miss!” 7:30pm, 4-Star Theatre, SF. More info here.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Marke B.
Marke B.
Marke Bieschke is the publisher and arts and culture editor of 48 Hills. He co-owns the Stud bar in SoMa. Reach him at marke (at) 48hills.org, follow @supermarke on Twitter.

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