Choreographer Joanna Haigood, Alpert Award winner in Dance 1998, spoke via Skype with Jess Curtis on April 5, 2011. Alpert Award director Irene Borger interviewed Curtis via email, March-April, 2011.


How do our imaginations and our bodies interact? How do the ways we imagine our bodies shape and change both their cultural relevance and their material actuality? How do our bodies shape our imaginations? Can re-imagining our body and rebodying our imaginations be useful tools for making society more open, just and satisfying for us all?

What do you mean by "rebodying our imaginations?"

One track of contemporary theory of cognition (how we think or know) holds that our cognitive experience is not an isolated event going on inside our brain, but is actually inextricably bound to and inherent in our sensing body and its relations with the world.
Jess Curtis and Choreographer Joanna Haigood

The flow of information, intention, and action throughout the networks of body and world is constant.

I see an apple. I become aware that I am hungry and perhaps imagine the possibility of eating the apple. I reach for the apple and put it in my mouth. I have embodied that imagination. Other times the physical act of reaching for the apple is itself the thought and its embodiment simultaneously. I like to think of dancing and body-based performing as a kind of spatialized thinking or embodied imagining.

Who Dances?

Curtis has been an athlete, an acrobat, a dancer who has pushed himself - and others - to their limit, working throughout his career with non-classically trained collaborators, including street performers, actors, circus artists and musicians.

He has asked what - and who - is beautiful? What can different bodies do? Why is physical uniqueness seen sometimes as 'Virtuosity' and, at others, as 'Disability'? Can a change in frame or filter reverse these positions?


I still fall pretty squarely within the ranks of what some disability activists call the 'Temporarily-Able-Bodied,' or TAB...time eventually takes its toll on all of us. Our abilities, inabilities, and dis-abilities are constantly changing. My body does not do what it once did. When the youthful vigor of the body is waning, is it possible that my body has something else to offer in this performative exchange we are in?


By examining the differences and idiosyncrasies of every dancer - rather than holding people up to a socially imagined, unrealistic and 'fictional' standard - Curtis says, "...audiences re-consider their own experience, definitions and limitations of beauty and empowerment."

In his work one has an invitation to see a variety of bodies, and, so, to have a chance to look at people as unique, real and wondrous, and to think about and feel what we're viewing.


In the West, conceptual bodies of knowledge, rendered in spoken or written language yield more attention, and have more weight in discourse than the body itself. In what ways, in performance, does your work counter this?

The degree to which language has colonized and tends to monopolize the realm of meaning-making is sometimes discouraging to me, especially as I have been re-engaging in more academic settings. (It's interesting that your question refers to 'bodies of knowledge' and speaks of the 'weight in discourse'.) In my work I try to bridge the gap between embodied knowledge and written knowledge both by writing about what I do and how I experience the meanings in it. I try to make work that addresses meaning in physical ways so that audiences can have meaningful physical experiences of it.

The flip side of this dilemma is that, in the larger picture, the meanings that we make through our bodies are constant and ever present. The things you know physically are shaping every minute of every day, they are arguably having much more 'weight' in the discourse of your life whether or not they are given the status of knowledge and deemed worthy of theorizing in a University.

Interview by Irene Borger
My work is the ongoing exploration of work as a body. Jess Curtis
Excerpt from: "The Symmetry Project - Study#14 (re)Presentation"
The flow of information, intention, and action throughout the networks of body and world is constant. Jess Curtis
Jess Curtis and Choreographer Joanna Haigood via Skype, April 5, 2011
"Under the Radar" excerpts: Crutch Trio, Swinging Duet (2007)
Excerpts from: "Dances for Non/Fictional Bodies" (2010) Work in Progress