Photo by Chelsea Rowe

Beyond dance

Wednesday, March 24, 1999

KUNST-STOFF aims to combine the arts - seductively. Rita Felciano San Francisco Bay Guardian KUNST-STOFF, one of San Francisco's newest performance groups, may be the Wired of the dance world: its content is worthwhile, but the real selling point is the punchiness of its presentation. Founded last October by two former Lines Contemporary Ballet dancers - Tomi Paasonen and Yannis Adoniou - KUNST-STOFF aims to make and present work with panache. Paasonen and Adoniou don't offer the modestly introspective pieces commonly associated with young choreographers. Instead they step in boldly, embracing a surrealism and a funky trashiness that is currently rare in Bay Area dance. They look at theater as their visual playing field - a playing field where anything goes. KUNST-STOFF derives its name from German Kunst (art) and Stoff (material). Though neither of the founders is German - Paasonen is Finnish, Adoniou Greek - both worked in German ballet companies before settling in San Francisco. Paasonen also danced for two years with the Joffrey Ballet, before an onstage accident forced him to reconfigure his artistry. Dancerly virtuosity is no longer the focus for Paasonen (or Adoniou); movement is but one element of their approach, which also incorporates poetry, original text, sculptural sets, film, and elaborate costumes. Both are also filmmakers - Adoniou's dreamlike Birth was a standout at last fall's Footage Film Festival. "I have always felt that all the arts influence each other," the soft-spoken Paasonen - whose aquamarine dreadlocks match his eyes - explained last week after a rehearsal of Tube 58. Initially developed during Paasonen's residency at the Jon Sims Center for the Performing Arts last year, Tube 58 was inspired by an essay about gene manipulation. "It's first of all about the concept of time," he said, "and different ways to relate to it, particularly as seen from the perspective of immortality." Characters include a boy frozen in time, an Energizer bunny that is always late, and a mother who wants to be younger. The people in Tube 58 live TV existences: constantly channel switching, they never find happiness. Costumes and props for Tube 58 - including gas masks, body bags, a pink bunny, a pig's snout, and a 10-foot-high armchair and footstool - are scattered throughout KUNST-STOFF's rehearsal space. The production employs five actors and five dancers, all of whom are (however minimally) paid. The budget, including a small grant from Zellerbach Foundation, is $15,000 - lunch money for other theatrical enterprises, but for a company barely six months old, a respectable amount of cash. That's where one of KUNST-STOFF's major assets comes in: ex-ballet dancer Cate Reigner - the founder and owner of an Internet marketing research and consulting firm - has signed on as KUNST-STOFF's producer. Riegner believes there is a large untapped market of people in the 25-to-45 age bracket, people who have some disposable income and an interest in the kind of theatrical experiences that Adoniou and Paasonen are creating. Riegner has successfully convinced private individuals and corporations to cough up money to support artists. An evening with KUNST-STOFF involves more that just a dance performance or two. Similar to museums that have started to target on-the-go audiences, KUNST-STOFF aims to pull people in with an evening of interrelated experiences. Theme-related art exhibits are installed in the gallery outside the theater; in conjunction with the Tube 58, Film Arts Foundation will show experimental films, including Alex Ketley and Christian Burn's sequal to Salt Flat Pieces (show at KUNST-STOFF's last concert). After the show the party begins: "Until 2 a.m. - we have very good DJs," Riegner says. Food is even a part of the deal; next door, Mardi Gras Cafe will stay open until the DJs stop spinning. If the people at the KUNST-STOFF can bring it off, they'll have discovered a new way of marketing dance. In the process they may give new life to the ailing Brady Street Dance theater. For all those who are interested but can't catch the performance group this weekend, the next opportunity will arrive July 4, with a show titled Alien in America.