Photo by Chelsea Rowe

Accidents can happen

Thursday, July 18, 2002

Michael McDonagh Bay Area Reporter The elevator in the Odd Fellows Hall on 7th and Market in San Francisco has that rarest of things - a real live elevator operator. He opens the door, and I get in. The lift ascends, stops at the fifth floor, and I get off to look for the studio where the San Francisco-based avant garde dance company KUNST-STOFF is rehearsing their latest piece, numerous aXidents per(Formed). KUNST-STOFF premieres the new work July 27 at Cowell Theater, Fort Mason, part of Summerfest/Dance's West Wave Dance Festival 2002. Hearing voices, I approach a door. A reddish-haired man walks towards me; I say I'm here to talk to the troupe's co-director Yannis Adoniou, who emerges, smiling behind thin, rimless glasses. He says please take a seat, and so I sit down in the studio's only chair, next to the mirror, which covers the entire wall. The dancers move about casually, some warming up, others talking. And then the rehearsal begins. Everything's serious now. Especially Marcus Schulter's music on the boombox - a pulsing, almost Tibetan-sounding chant, with sharp interruptions like gunshots. Adoniou gives his five dancers (eight in the staged version) a card with seemingly random but poetic texts, like "What's a false step? How can steps be false?" One dancer reads from the standing mike, and another queues up, waiting. Adoniou gives the corps directions like, "Go to the frame," an open, silver thing on wheels. There will be a mirrored one, too. Dancer Kevin Cregan (the man I first talked to) and his partner, Nicole Bonadonna, do a romantic, Tchaikovsky-like duet. Many of the dancers have classical training. Other gestures are random and more modern, and the dancers execute their firm or tenuous steps - moves really - with great precision and emotional focus. It's definitely a contemporary dance vocabulary, and one that's inherently graceful, too. Down to the elements After the rehearsal, Adoniou explains his intentions, and reflects. "Meaning is not in the movement, but in the state you're in when you're making the movement," a remark which may have something to do with his Greek roots. He was born in Athens in 1968. Greece's ancient dances, after all, always aimed at something elemental yet spiritual. The dancer-choreographer, with his thick, flat eyebrows, intense brown eyes, and black curling looks, like a kouros, certainly looks the part - yes, he's gay, and yes his family name means Adonis. He continues, "The dancer in numerous aXidents per(Formed) doesn't have the ego anymore, he doesn't have that sense of, 'Oh, I'm performing,' because something exists beyond himself - and in this case, it's my voice. "I don't want people to expect from me anything," he says softly but firmly. "I do have a history of dancing with Alonzo King's company Lines, so people know the style. I meet people on the street or see people in the studio, and they say, 'Oh, we'd like it if you could do that,' you know, something they saw me do, but that feels weird. Of course, it's a compliment, but does this person have an expectation, and do they want me to do something? But I'm not interested in creating a Yannis Adoniou style, not even a KUNST-STOFF style. The company is based on collaboration, so every time it's new, and we are surprised with ourselves. This piece, which I developed, from the one I did last April, is about things you can't really predict or control." Adoniou is also interested in heightening the work's accidental nature. And though it's fully thought out and carefully rehearsed, random things and unexpected collisions are sure to occur. The choreographer is also intent on exploiting the unrepeatable and entirely eventful moment. To achieve this, he'll call out cues for his dancers, but what they do will depend on how it feels during the performance, in the house. Adoniou's tactic isn't aggression, but challenge. He wants to keep the audience, and certainly the dancers, on their toes. "I'm trying to create an environment where the dance can happen, and where it can exist specific to that environment." Creating that environment is his job, but he also expects the audience to break down its wall of expectations. "I don't want the viewer to come in and see something that's made, and say I like it or I don't like it." In other words, be open, and present. And in these increasingly distracted times, where so much art, from Broadway to film to high-toned museum shows, is intent on telling us things we already knew, this can only be a good thing. Just disable your cell. At least, for just this now.