Kunst-Stoff, hail & farewell!
by Paul Parish
Giga Hz, the last ballet in Kunst-Stoff's show last Saturday night at the ODC Theater, came to us in Smell-o-rama. It was a very familiar, slightly toxic smell: the glue on packing tape. By the time the six dancers had entered and ripped open their coils of tape, wrapped a length around a pipe at shoulder-height, then crossed the whole stage to tape it to another pipe at the other side, they'd created an image of the worldwide web in shiny cellophane that gave off fumes that filled the whole house. The antics that followed got crazier and crazier as their overstimulated bodies hung on this spider web, got tangled in it, rising to inspired conniptions before they all collapsed.
What kept it interesting – it could have been a one-liner – was the fusion of queer performance art, the drag subculture, and ballet – a la Jack Smith or Tony Rizzo – so that the attitude ranged from the sardonic to the sublime, with many curiously inwrought gems of choreography right up against pratfalls and diatribe. The tone had been set by their costumes, fish-net tights that encased their faces and their whole bodies, which made them look both familiar and strange. Kunst-Stoff makes brilliant use of Brecht's Verfremdungseffekt, whereby the familiar is altered enough so that it seems you've never seen it before. So they were nude inside their piebald tights, which denatured their faces but revealed the usual landmarks (nipples, breasts, thighs, butts, cocks and balls) of beautifully put-together dancers' bodies.
The weekend presented five dances in two shows that marked both the company's 15th anniversary and their farewell to bricks-and-mortar existence in San Francisco. It was a fabulously enjoyable event. Each piece had aspects of cabaret, of weird modern dance, and of noble ballet, mashed up in a unique way that gave great pleasure to the mind. Kunst-Stoff (the name is German for artificial or plastic) was formed in 1998 by two European dancers – Tomi Paasonen, Finnish, and Yannis Adoniou, Greek – who had met in Germany and danced in the Hamburg Ballet before coming to SF, where they were both stars in Alonso King's contemporary ballet company Lines. Paasonen had a glorious plastique – you'd never forget seeing him rotating in grand pirouettes in the most gorgeous positions. Adoniou was equally beautiful, but you could never remember him in any position – it was all a hot, molten, sensuous flow. He oozed through positions.
When Paasonen's visa expired he went back to Germany, while Adoniou made the company happen here, teaching choreographing, getting wild and wonderful gigs. They danced at Burning Man, at all-night art parties reminiscent of Jack Smith's, in Willits; in SF, they'd take over the whole of ODC or Dance Mission, and install something in every room. Perhaps too often, they'd get into a Magritte-like black suit and put stockings over their faces and go rigid to mock bourgeois conformism. More fun was the all-white futurist dystopia at Brady Street, where a Pillsbury doughboy/Michelin man ran the show.
I've never enjoyed Adoniou's work more than his 1999 disco-dance Saturday night; he tricked out music by Prince, George Michael, the Boomtastics, in brilliant little combinations of ballet warm-up steps, the while hurling computer-generated whirling lights at the figures onstage that made them all seem to be floating on LSD. Parker Murphy and Levya Tawil lip-synched with great style.
Photo: CP Rowe
They're not leaving forever; dancers historically have had a nomadic existence, and right now they need greener pastures. They are giving up their studio, the large room at Civic Center above Burger King, where they've not only taught dancers and prepared their own work, over the years they've shown an impressive array of the superb contemporary dancers in experimental work. I'll never forget seeing Anthony Rizzi's An Attempt to Fail at Groundbreaking Theater with Pina Arcade Smith there. Dragged to it by Danny Nicoletta, to whom I'm forever grateful, I finally saw the kind of gay underground theater that I'd only heard and read about. Rizzi caught that freaky tone of the drag artist who'll never believe in gay marriage and the white-picket fence of public respectability, who distrusts conformity from the bottom of his soul, and totally distrusts the academics who champion his kind of work and use it as the basis for their performance theory.
It's not a coincidence that I found my colleague the Bay Guardian critic Rita Felciano at Rizzi's show. Nor was it a coincidence that when Adoniou entered the audience during a fourth-wall piercing moment in his solo Those Golden Years (created for him by Paasonen), he took a veil from his nearly-sacred costume and handed it to Ms. Felciano. It was a fitting tribute, the most emotional moment of the whole evening for me.