KUNST-STOFF Bids a Fearless Farewell
to San Francisco
Photo of Yannis Adoniou in Those Golden Years by Weidong Yang
After a decade and a half in San Francisco, KUNST-STOFF contemporary dance company bid the Bay Area a quirky and unsentimental "so long for now" in its 15th Retrospective Anniversary Season November 8-10 at ODC Theater; its last production before director Yannis Adoniou returns to Greece. Two programs cannot summarize years of work, and founding choreographers Adoniou and Tomi Paasonen did not try, instead taking a view of the past that acknowledges the present moment as both whole and wholly temporary. Initially intended, in Adoniou's words, to be "an umbrella for art things, not a dance company," KUNST-STOFF presented a cerebral spectacle that combined construction and improvisation in a grand convergence of made and spontaneous objects and humans.
Solo for Yannis, danced only Friday night, featured the hypnotic Daiane Lopes da Silva shrouded in a gray tracksuit that was simultaneously pedestrian and bizarre, with the hood sewn hermetically shut. She began eyeless, almost headless, on a rectangular patch of astroturf overseen by four men (Adoniou, Paasonen, Weidong Yang, and Ivo Serra) in correspondingly anonymous warm-ups. She crawled larvally. She was lifted and shifted and tumbled on the waving AstroTurf, made rolling meadow and seismic disaster and algal sea, all the unsteady ground impenetrable.
Jethro De Hart played an unearthly score as she blindly explored the obstacles and textures of a denuded world, transforming the others from stagehands into personages as she felt out their facial features and leaped wildly into their arms, shedding her costume and asserting her sovereignty over the space when she wrapped and trailed what was the ground regally behind her like a cape before escaping its burden to advance, naked and sensate, into a pathway of light. The allusion to a metamorphosis was completed when the lights came up and she returned to bow a human swathed in particolored silk.
Adoniou's 98-13 was a deliberate hodgepodge collaged from the KUNST-STOFF archive that mocked theatricality even as it interrupted itself with outbursts of virtuosic phrasework.
The dancers appeared and reappeared in costume after costume, erupting in monologues that ranged from the absurd and melodramatic (a hysterical Lopes da Silva narrating and zealously pantomiming the events in progress, translated from the Portuguese by the straight-faced Parker Murphy) to the confessional (elegant Katie Gaydos announcing, "I romanticize jobs that are beneath me!" Murphy confiding, "I have an irrational fear of moths.") to the deliberately stagey (Lindsay Renee Derry conducting audience members in interactive moments involving a banana and a roll of tape with emphatic good humor). Things were happening in parallel: dancing and speeches, miniature vignettes and pushing the set pieces around, confronting the audience and self-consciously examining the work.
Ultimately, 98-13 seemed a piece about the act of choreography--the relationship of a maker to his materials, the intended story colliding with the lives of the artists. The work ended with dancers speaking the lines and Adoniou testing the limits of a repeated sequence of movement, as if to point out that the work of the choreographer is not only to create but also to receive, observe, and listen.
Premieres Back to 1999 and Giga Hz, made by Adoniou and Paasonen, respectively, both treat the strange moment when the materialism of the 1980s transitioned to the cultural confrontation with intellectual property and virtual reality of the 1990s. In Back to 1999, the 1990s emerge as a period as distant from the present as the 1970s, with psychedelic projections by Kinetech and Saturday Night Fever-esque white costumes. With lip-synching, speaking into microphones, voiceovers, and intense, rhythmic dancing, the whole thing comes together like an acid dream. This viewer cannot remember if it was a human or a machine, a citation or a spontaneous speech act, when someone proclaimed at one point, "It's the American Dream because he has to be asleep to believe it."
In contrast, Giga Hz presented an image of the central processing unit itself, a world wide web strung across the stage in packing tape wound, pulled, and criss-crossed overhead in a tense game of strategy and competition enacted by dancers swaddled in hypercolor layers of fishnet tights from head to toe who filled the stage with electrostatic noise and the slightly acrid smell of adhesive. Like superlative androids, they produced a cacophony of speeches using "like" as interjection and verb, making similes and proclaiming affection for things as inconsequential as brussels sprouts and marvelous as "unicorns in your bellybutton," parodying our over-opinionated population's overuse of the mediocre affect of liking. This was followed by a similar meditation on "click," the dancers moving in discrete poses, miming obsessive portraiture and the relative vacancy of activity in a life replaced by virtual representation. The dancers became ever more frenzied and mechanical, the gleaming net above twisted, ripped, and ragged by their disorder.
The piece ended with two dancers parading in a hairball-like mass of tape regurgitated from the door stage right while transparent balloons, gleaming like blown glass or soap bubbles, floated in to be popped underfoot. Closer inspection revealed them to be repurposed prophylactics, suggesting ever more sterile ways of replication and recreation.
Those Golden Years, choreographed by Paasonen and danced by Adoniou, was the most straightforward in terms of sustained feeling and visual coherence. Inspired by a dream before the night of Paasonen's mother's death, the stage was littered with glittering sheets of gold foil laid out like a giant heart, from which a naked Adoniou rose again and again, tunneling with speed and tossing up flakes of gold that hovered and drifted back down to the floor.