Performance Research Experiment #1  (P.R.E. #1)

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Maybe it's their Hawaiian shirts. Or the fact that they’re both shoeless. But something quickly alerts you that the methodology behind Jess Curtis and Jörg Müller's archly unscientific experiment may be firmly tongue-in-cheek.

Delivering 11 «micro-pieces», ranging from the basic diversion of sliotars scudding across the bare stage to rudely impressive circus skills and quite affecting, semi-naked dance sequences, they challenge us to call a halt to it. When five audience members have announced their disengagement, the scene ends. As a research project, it owes rather more to The Gong Show than the Large Hadron Collider, yet it makes for an oddly compelling experience. It takes a hard heart to cut short Müller’s anal broom-balancing, but we become merciless at the first hint of an endurance test. The researchers’ dry wit and our sense of collective control becomes so hugely infectious, though, that it comes with a caution: «Don’t do this at other shows. They will not respond the way we do.»

Peter Crawley, The Irish Times, 10th of september 2008
Reviews : Dublin Fringe Festival, Dublin

It would be interesting to know what Curtis and Müller thought of their collaborators in the amusing party game Performance Research Experiment #1: Virtuosity and Engagement (2004). The lengths of these 11 miniature works—which featured rolling balls, brooms balancing on lower and upper body parts, and games of push and pull—were determined by numbers called out by the audience. Attention spans clearly varied; sometimes I also sensed a rather disconcerting willingness to see how far the performers could be pushed. Did some of us want that broom to fall or to see Curtis no longer able to hold up Müller?

Rita Felciano, The San Francisco Bay Guardian, 22 Mars 2006
Movement allies, San Francisco

To start, Curtis joins his German colleague, Jörg Müller, for a revival of Performance Research Experiment #1: Virtuosity and Engagement, a riotous audience participation, instant response routine. The duo launches into a series of micro-events, and asks the crowd to register their mounting disapproval by calling out numbers, from 1 to 5. At hearing the latter, the pair move on to different material. I guess it beats thumbs up, thumbs down in the Roman Coliseum.

So, what engages us? We apparently love physical stunts. We like Curtis balancing a broom on his forehead. We are fascinated by Müller’s attempt to balance the same broom in his anal region. We are riveted by the duo in jockey shorts as Curtis feigns an amatory assault on Müller. On the other hand, we are quickly bored by displays of postmodern gestures; the guys’ scrutiny of their palms took almost no time to summon a 5. We also don’t have much patience with what we deem predictable behavior. It would be fascinating to see this with another audience and with mixed gender participants.

Allan Ulrich, voice of dance, 17 Mars 2006
Jess Curtis/Gravity - Intercontinental Collaborations 2, San Francisco

«The evening began with a piece called “Performance Research Experiment #1: Virtuosity and Engagement” and was a series of small “performative events” (or “micro pieces” take your pick) wittily presented by Jorg Muller and Jess Curtis. Both performers came out in lab coat type attire with clipboards at the very beginning and explained to the audience that if there was ever a point where an audience member felt they were becoming disinterested or disengaged in what was happening onstage, they were to say the number “one.” This was to be seconded by another member with “two” and so on until the running sequence reached five, at which time the performers would agree to stop the micro piece without argument, and move on to the next. The audience could also veto by saying “three” after “four”, which, essentially, drew out the inevitable by buying some time. Explanation ceased and performance began. Small and large softballs made their way through various trajectories onto the stage while Muller crawled along the upstage curtain. This might’ve developed into something, but the audience, drunk with power, wouldn’t allow it, even though Curtis stepped out from his softball throwing post to let us know that we were yet in prologue. Nonetheless, according to experiment, we moved on. The next few scenes progressed as either Curtis or Muller had the task of keeping a broom balanced in the air. It began with standard positioning on the forehead, while Muller attempted distraction by throwing his shirt atop the broom. This was successfully caught by Curtis at one point though not without difficulty. He asked us to notice, “Doesn’t conflict make things more interesting?” Later vignettes included some movement sequences in which the performers began by stripping down to their underwear (eliciting an immediate “one” and some smirks from the audience).

Movement began to develop, but again was lost, even through veto power, to an audience preferring tricky broom balancing. The broom sequences evolved with ever more creative balance points. At one point, Muller lay down, balancing the broom on his abdomen while softballs were being aimed between his legs by Curtis. Later the broom was on a shirt held by both performers--at which point Curtis announced his observation that “Cooperation is not nearly as interesting as conflict.” No points were left unexplored by this duo. Eventually the balance point became the anus--Muller in shoulder stand with legs apart, broom balancing at center point. This kept the audience quiet for some time in contemplation over the strong visual created here (could it be growing out from within?), but eventually that got the hook too. In the last performative event, Curtis balanced the broom on his head while Muller manipulated his scalp. This time when the audience got to “five,” Curtis thanked us. Light and witty, the piece kept most engaged throughout, if only engaged in the disengaging.»

Heidi Landgraf,, octobre 2004
Jess Curtis/Gravity - Intercontinental Collaborations, San Francisco