She learned to walk and dance on stilts in Ghana, with an initiation ritual in which she was placed in a circle of lit gunpowder while seven notches were cut into each of her big toes, and a special fortifying powder was rubbed into the wounds, entering her blood stream, and enabling her to channel powerful forces in precarious situations...such as a life in the arts.
What can she say about heights, about long legs, this through line of her life. Well, if nothing else, a timeline:
2000: She travels to Ghana, where she learns stilt dancing from Anchor's Masquerade Society in Cape Coast. She is initiated as a stilt performer with a protection ritual, and is inaugurated into the group in a parade through town.
2002: She begins performing as Hilda, the ten foot tall faux-German powerhouse, with Anonymous Ensemble's underground rock theater outfit The Best, which performs all over NYC, as well as Berlin and Australia through 2007.
2004: She begins to perform on stilts in a range of nightclubs in NYC, and in a few music videos and short films.
2004: She performs a marriage in the air on stilts in Mabou Mines Red Beads, at MassMoca and the Skirball Center, NYC
2005: On a whim, she travels to Mexico with her self-made red wooden stilts, happens to find the stilters of Zachilla Mexico, and joins them for their yearly festival of San Sebastian, where the all male group dress half as men and half as women. Her stilts are exactly the same height as theirs. They are slightly confused about a woman at eye level, but all goes well.
2005: She begins performing on stilts and as an actress in Mabou Mines' Dollhouse, which tours to Israel, Hong Kong, Australia, Edinburgh, Madrid, Singapore, Italy, Greece, Korea, Columbia, the U.S. and Moskow through 2011
2007: While on a jaunt to a Botanical Garden in mainland China, she comes across a stilt performance. The stilters let her join them for a little while, and before long there is a local television crew making news of it.
2008: Along with Anonymous Ensemble she creates Wanderlust, a one-woman stilt tour-de-force, which performs at the Edinburgh Fringe festival. It is nominated for a Total Theatre award in Experiment and Innovation.
2009: The performance of Wanderlust in the Edinburgh Fringe leads to a U.K. tour which also includes the Hilda and Gretel Cabaret, at Latitude Festival, Jackson's Lane, Madame JoJo's, Stratford Circus.
2011: She performs on stilts in a collaboration with the National Opera of Greece, in Anonymous Ensemble's Turing Opera. She plays MIRA, a superhuman computer chatbot who orchestrates an opera.
2014: She collaborates for the first time with long time friend Aki Sasamoto in her Sunny in the Furnace at the Kitchen, NYC. It feels good to look at the stilts as a structural tool within Aki's landscape. Jessica channels the secret singer songwriter in the ex girlfriend wig. Photo: Julieta Cervantes
2015: She begins performing as Ellipsa MG, the folk singer-songwriter who was revealed to her in a dream.
St Ann's Warehouse, Skirball Center, LaMama's, P.S.122, Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, Museum of the City of New York,Webster Hall, The Pyramid Club, The Belt, The Chocolate Factory, The Ohio Theater, Chashama, The Makor, Marqee, Arena, The Box, The Park, Element, The Annex, Carnival,The Delancey, Parkside Lounge, Galapagos, Sin-E, Parkside Lounge, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade