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Davis, California

Friday, February 23, 2024

Redefining bodies in motion

The UC Davis Department of Theatre & Dance will be presenting two new choreographies, “Jointedness” and “Dances for Non-Fictional Bodies,” starting Feb. 12. The pieces are created by Master of Fine Arts graduating candidates Jess Curtis and Nina Galin. This week, Muse previews the two works.


In her latest work entitled “Jointedness,” Galin presents images showing the struggles of finding individuality among cultural and societal institutions. Through movement, visual design, singing and literary text, Galin displays a personal interpretation of coexisting within society.

“There are plus and minuses of being a part of an institution,” Galin said. “How do I reconcile myself as an individual artist or citizen in a community where I am participating in a big institution? I feel like I’m always struggling to find my balance as an individual or as a part of a community.”

Throughout choreography, literary pieces such as William Shakespeare’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet and Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem entitled “Sense of Something Coming” work as a dialogue in the theatrical aspect of Galin’s choreography.

Galin, a former body worker and physical therapist, is interested in the idea of both literal and metaphorical joints in the human body. Galin extends this philosophy when it comes to the collaboration of dance, music and theatre.

“Conceptual joints are places where two very different ideas can come together,” Galin said. “These leave possibilities for change, movement or transformation.”

Working as a triptych, Galin’s choreography is split up into three parts. During the second piece, James Marchbanks, actor and member of the MFA program, is dressed in lightweight and light-colored clothing surrounded by white plastic panels. Against the blaring noise of a business television show “Marketplace” on his laptop, Marchbanks recites Rilke’s poem “Sense of Something Coming.”

“I am aware of [the computer] but I can’t let it control me,” Marchbanks said. “It’s like the battle with what’s going on in the world and me finding peace within myself. And how I want to sometimes separate myself from it, and how I seem to be controlled to make that space my own.”

During this performance, Galin breaks down the fourth wall and invites the audience to join the actors on the stage.

“Have an open mind and open for things that are interpretive; it’s not straightforward,” Marchbanks said. “Be open to different kinds of art.”

“Dances for Non-Fictional Bodies”

As the second performance piece of the night, award-winning choreographer Jess Curtis will be examining the limitation of the human body through movement in “Dances for Non-Fictional Bodies.” Questioning societal ideals of how a body should be or look like, Curtis examines how these “non-fictional” bodies have limited society and individuals to how we act, feel or view others.

“How do the ways we imagine our bodies and imagine the bodies of other people create meaning for us?” Curtis said. “If I see you and imagine certain limitations because of how you look, does that limit you? Or how can I remain curious and not project that on someone else?”

Living in San Francisco and Berlin for the past 10 years and traveling for other performance work, Curtis has gathered a collaborative team from around the world. Members include Guillermo Gomez-Peña from San Francisco and Mexico, as well as performers Maria Francesca Scaroni from Berlin and Italy, Claire Cunningham from Glasgow, David Toole from the UK and Jörg Müller from France.

With differences in training and technique, each artist offers their own range of styles. The way each body interacts with each other, Curtis said, adds further depth to the choreography.

“How can we meet each other as humans, even though we don’t share exact physical qualities? What is the dance we do with each other if we grew up doing really different dances?” Curtis said “For instance, Jörg Müller is a trained juggler and worked a lot in circuses. He brings a really different kind of movement in the piece. Maria, on the other hand, was on Italian television that did jazz. How they meet each other is really interesting.”

“Dances for Non-Fictional Bodies” re-examines the term dance and what dance really means and how movement of the body can be interpreted.

“To some people, dancing means moving your body in rhythm to the music; and dance and music aren’t seen separately. But then there was a post-modern movement in American dance where people can actually say we can make dances that don’t need music,” Curtis said.

With lip sync numbers to Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” and The Doors’ “Light my Fire,” combined with a beautifully haunting number sung by Claire Cunningham and unusual props, “Dances for Non-Fictional Bodies” is a unique and one of a kind performance.

This production may contain full or partial nudity. Viewer discretion is advised. For more information, visit theaterdance.ucdavis.edu.

UYEN CAO can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.


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