Perpetual edge

Kunst-Stoff celebrates a decade of dance
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Photo by Keira
Heu-Jwyn Chang

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Over Feb. 14 to 16, Yannis Adoniou and Tomi Paasonen's oddly named offspring, Kunst-Stoff, celebrated its 10th anniversary. The company had its first performance during the dot-com bubble at what was then San Francisco's most in venue, Brady Street Theater — where you couldn't find a parking place but did get some of the edgiest performances in town. You wouldn't dare miss Kunst-Stoff's total concept theater, in which multimedia reigned to suggest high-tech, futuristic fantasies. Performers donned bubble wrap or stuffed body stockings with shape-altering balloons. Theirs was a place where design ruled and rules existed to be broken.

But then the bubble burst. That initial infusion of venture capital — which had also financed art exhibits, DJ parties, and high-powered advertising — evaporated. Brady Street was sold. Paasonen lost his visa and returned to Europe. He would contribute a work periodically, but Adoniou was pretty much left by himself to redirect the company. Actually, he wasn't quite left alone. He still had a group of highly committed dancers who allowed him to continue looking at the intersection of design and movement.

At a dress rehearsal prior to the anniversary program — which contained three world premieres — three dancers who've been with the company since the beginning looked better than ever. Nicole Bonadonna, Kara Davis, and Leslie Schickel were gloriously fearless, embracing physical and emotional risks they might have been more hesitant to do a decade ago.

Even without an audience, the company (which also includes Justin Kennedy, Marina Fukushima, John Merke, Erin Kraemer, and Dwayne Worthington) was fierce. It made you realize that while dancers talk a lot about the feedback they get from spectators, they ultimately dance for themselves and one another.

Watching the dancers rehearse phrases on a naked stage in punk street clothes and Haight Street throwaways, it took me a while to realize they were wearing Jeremy Chase Sanders's costumes for Paasonen's Out of Hand. When they started the piece the music seemed ridiculously loud, though much of the sound would be swallowed up when the seats were full of bodies at the performance.

Paasonen has said the dark Out of Hand contrasts the debris of American foreign policy, as demonstrated on a mountain-of-rubble Berlin, with choreography based on the movement language of people around Seventh Street and Market in San Francisco. It is a grim piece about negotiating danger and keeping yourself steady. Adoniou's imaginative solo for himself was created "in dialogue with Alonzo King" and asked some King-type questions about the meaning of the universe and one's place in it. The choreographer took the phrase "having the rug pulled out from under you" and translated it into a meditation on balance, seeking, and letting go. Finally, the extraordinary Korean musician and performer Dohee Lee (with musician Jethro DeHart) set the ecstatic tone for Adoniou's Un State, a paean at once to the individuality of Kunst-Stoff's dancers and to the expressive power of the human body. It seemed an appropriate finale for a 10th-anniversary concert.

As the dancers headed for snacks and dressing rooms and Adoniou finessed a duet onstage, Paasonen, back for these shows only, talked about making dances here and in Berlin. "Berlin is very demanding, very competitive, [and] people are very territorial," he said. "This is a community."

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