Toshiro worship

Choreographing the way of the samurai
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Christy Funsch is tiny, but she commands attention. During a run-through of her solo dance in the upcoming To Mifune, she filled CounterPULSE's stage with a torrent of lanky, highly detailed movements, out of which tumbled a recognizable character not unlike the breeches-hoisting heroine in Agnes de Mille's Rodeo. But Funsch's cowgirl isn't heading for a hoedown; her eyes are set on loftier horizons. She's on her way to meet Toshiro Mifune, who played larger-than-life warrior heroes in Akira Kurosawa's epic films.

Until now Funsch has primarily choreographed solos and duets, but for To Mifune, a work she describes as equally inspired by spaghetti westerns and samurai dramas, she has expanded her Funsch Dance Experience to eight members, including DJ K808, Chinese acrobat Glenn Curtis, and break-dancer Skorpio. As a performer with local companies (currently the Stephen Pelton Dance Theater, and as a duo with Sue Roginski), Funsch has been mesmerizing to watch: intense, incisive, but also often lyrical and a little mysterious. So perhaps her fascination with the great actor is not as surprising as it might seem.

Funsch says she admires the range of Mifune's "intense command of a huge physicality" in such films as Seven Samurai (1954). Even more, she's in awe of his "ability to pull back, to give with smaller gestures," the way he did in Yojimbo (1961), a film that was remade in Italy as A Fistful of Dollars (1964) with Clint Eastwood. Though she is taking a light-hearted approach in her tribute to Mifune, Funsch admits to a fascination with the figure of the morally ambiguous loner who only gradually reveals himself in the context of a film — whether that film was directed by Kurosawa or Sergio Leone.

Skorpio, with whom Funsch performed at the Live Worms Gallery in North Beach in March, interprets Mifune. Funsch and Skorpio hooked up by accident when their rehearsal schedules overlapped. Skorpio calls what he does "true skool," combining old-style break-dance moves with more contemporary dancing. Their Live Worms duet, at once relaxed and intense, showed that these so-different dancers are naturally congenial partners. "A lot of the breaking vocabulary is just as set as our ballet language is," Funsch says, explaining her admiration for Skorpio. "It was immediately apparent that he is about how you put things together and give it your own flavor. I never felt that I was watching a break-dancer." *

TO MIFUNE

With Isak Immanuel's Illegal Echo

Thurs/6–Sat/8, 8 p.m., $12–$20

CounterPULSE

1310 Mission, SF

(415) 435-7552

www.counterpulse.org

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