Photo by Chelsea Rowe

Stuff of art in offbeat dance theater

Saturday, March 27, 1999

Paul Sterman, Staff Writer Oakland Tribune For nine years, Tomi Paasonen was a highly successful dancer, performing as a soloist with three big-time companies: the Hamburg Ballet in Germany, the Joffrey ballet of Chicago and Lines Contemporary Ballet in San Francisco. But a freak accident in stage two years ago - he injured his neck when a ceiling collapsed during a rehearsal - ended Paasonen's dance career. So he threw himself into creating works for others to dance. Those works have been experimental, offbeat, witty and highly theatrical. A good example of his style is his newest piece, "Tube 58," which will be performed tonight and Sunday at the Brady Street Theater in San Francisco. The dance play is an eccentric, surrealistic reflection on the concepts of time and happiness. Costumes and props include gas masks, a pink bunny, a pig's snout and a 10-foot-high arm chair. "There's weird stuff going on," Paasonen says with a sly smile. "You can expect anything." "Tube 58" will be performed by KUNST-STOFF, a company that Paasonen and fellow dancer Yannis Adoniou founded last October. Loosely translated from German, KUNST-STOFF means "art stuff." Paasonen and Adoniou incorporate poetry, film, original text, unusual sets and playful costumes in their approach to dance performance. This reflects their belief that different art forms greatly influence each other. A KUNST-STUFF presentation involved various interrelated activities for an audience. In addition to the full-length dance play, this weekend's event - which opened Friday - will include live experimental music, a screening of independent films and an art exhibition with paintings, sculpture and photographic installations. The company's first event was in December. This new one, titled "White Time," will revolve around a futuristic, millennium-flavored theme. The event's centerpiece is "Tube 58," a mixture of movement, dance and spoken word. The 75-minute piece was written, directed and choreographed by Paasonen, who won acclaim for his dance work "X," performed last year at Theatre Artaud. "Tomi's work challenges people's thoughts and ideas," says Cate Riegner, KUNST-STOFF's producer. "There's a lot to think about. His work is very intricate and complex." Tamara Yoneda, a Berkeley resident who is one of the performers in "Tube 58", says it's exciting to work with Paasonen. She enjoys the social commentary he puts in his pieces, adding that he writes about people from all segments of society. "He goes down to street level and meets people who are from everyday walks of life," Yoneda says, "then he sits down and can't stop writing until he falls asleep at 4 in the morning or something like that." Paasonen, who grew up in Finland and now lives in San Francisco, is indeed prolific. Last year alone he presented six new works. He says he hopes KUNST-STOFF will be fertile ground for young, emerging artists interested in experimental work. "When I see (a show) and I'm surprised, and I see something that hasn't been done before, that's when I feel energized and fulfilled," said Paasonen, who sports dreadlocks colored in various shades of blue and green. "It's much more exciting than just safe areas of mass production." "Tube 58" was inspired by an essay Paasonen read about gene manipulation. Tackling the technology-vs-humanity debate, he has created a protagonist who is immortal while the other characters are desperately trying to stay young and beautiful. The production features five dancers and five actors. Paasonen describes the dance style as modern dance with certain scenes having balletic qualities to them. The tone of the piece is often ironical, he added. And there's a lot of unused visual touches present in a multi-media vein. In one scene intricately mapped out by Paasonen, the dancers do a series of movements and then - like a machine being rewound - they do all those same movements in reverse, step by step. Riegner, the producer, got involved with KUNST-STOFF because she had taken ballet classes from Paasonen and admired his work. Plans have already been made for the company's next production, and if the title is any indication, it seems in keeping with KUNST-STOFF's desire to chart new territory. Scheduled to take place July 4, the dance-music-film event is called "Americana for Aliens."