By Rita Felciano
TOMI PAASONEN DIDN'T take choreographic credit for Super
Vision, the hour-long theatrical extravaganza that constituted the
second half of Kunst-Stoff's sixth annual home season at ODC Theater.
Instead, Paasonen the show's creator credits himself with
"Direction, Set and Costume Design." It's just as well. Despite
the fact that he started as a ballet dancer, Paasonen isn't interested
in even the most elastic definition of choreography, that is, composing
through movement. His bag is physical theater. He uses dancers because
they have the stamina, the daring, and the imagination to throw themselves
into the maelstrom of images and ideas he cooks up onstage.
In this particular work, Paasonen seemed interested in the image-making
power of clothes. The contrast between who we are and how we and others
see us is an intriguing subject. It's probably also a good topic for
an artist whose strongest attribute is his ability to create visual
images. But as a stage work, which existed in time, Super Vision
had too many passages that began to drag no small issue in a
piece that so depended on the physical energy of its performers.
Super Vision (an earlier version of which was shown two years
ago at the Cowell Theater) had mesmerizing moments: dancers performing
against their mirror reflections, or rising from the dark like mermaids
from the deep to swim in a spreading sea of water. But Paasonen needed
to exert more compositional control. Non sequiturs, turmoil, and boundless
physical energy are most effective onstage when their representation
is shaped. Chaos may be part of life, but trying to re-create it in
the theater, always an artificial environment, rarely works. Mostly
it's boring to watch. Paasonen had excellent performers who were able
to create fabulous momentum. However, he needed to channel it.
The performance started in the theater lobby when, one by one, the
dancers mingled with the audience and started to talk to themselves,
to a wall, to an invisible partner. Even in the crowd they were isolated,
unaware, disinterested. All the performers wore black suits on which
were superimposed images of body parts. You saw a head next to a buttock,
a piece of arm next to a belly. The effect was stunning. It made the
dancers look as if they were wearing a second, glowing skin, or patches
As the performers moved their fragmented and isolated babblings into
the theater, they encountered their opposite, an immobile man dressed
in a white suit (David Jude Thomas, also responsible for the sound design)
who talked obsessively about control and organization. Out of this spoken
flurry emerged phrases, both verbal and physical, that gradually built
into an unstoppable momentum, with people imitating each other's runs,
hops, and falls. Dancers smashed themselves against walls, dived into
piles of bodies, broke into arabesques, and took to the microphone.
Throughout the growing frenzy, the lights flickered on and off and the
soundtrack's most prominent feature was the sound of a bleating goat.
That segment worked primarily because the dancers including
David Bentley, Nicole Bonadonna, Erin Carper, Kara Davis, Gabriel Forestieri,
Jose Navarrete, Juliann Rhodes, and Leslie Schickel were so extraordinarily
committed to the physical demands of the movement, which was both robotic
and volatile. But the main idea of people following each other blindly,
even off a cliff, may have gotten lost in the melee.
At the eye of the storm, clothes came off, leaving the dancers topless,
with identical shirts and ties wrapped around their waists as a mysterious
masked figure (Schickel) worked her way across the stage. It was an
exquisitely poetic section, in which the dancers raised themselves into
beauty queen-like displays. It also brought the evening's single most
striking image: Davis, pushing herself onto her hands, one curled foot
supporting her knee, the other pointed and shooting open like switchblade.
Throughout the work, Yannis Adoniou was similar to a master of ceremonies,
gathering the skin-uniforms, fingerprinting the dancers, and giving
each a little black box that was supposed to contain their essence.
They lined up against the theater's side-wall mirrors, and their individual
voices melted into each other as they folded, fell, and rose in unison.
Matthew Sarena's darkly soft lighting doubled the resulting images to
great effect. The dancers became pure poetry in motion.
Eventually Adoniou removed the last vestiges of artificiality
the shirts and the dancers lined up at the front of the stage
to recite the Pledge of Allegiance while nude. But Paasonen had a more
theatrical coup in his bag of tricks. What had looked like a lamp shade
became a waterfall, and the dancers began to slither, dive, and roll
across the stage. Their movements seemed natural and spontaneous
and a lot of fun.