Photo by Chelsea Rowe

Ring my 'Bells'

Friday, July 12, 2002

Rachel Howard, Examiner Dance Critic San Francisco Examiner Eight exceptionally quick-witted dancers from the Bay Area and abroad presented the choreographic equivalent of "Who's Line Is It Anyway?" Monday, and the results proved as thought-provoking as they were uproarious. It's not every night in contemporary dance that you get to see Butoh dancer Ledoh, clad in sumo-style diaper and customary white body paint, transform himself into a raring bull and charge at a gamely La Tania, the fiery flamenco soloist from Willits. Their by turns absurdist and oddly touching final confrontation was only one among a steady 90-minute stream of unexpected moments in "14 Bells," an all-star improv kick-off to Summerfest/Dance, the annual anthology presenting three weekends of Bay Area-based choreography at the Cowell Theater. Former Dutch National Ballet soloist Kevin Cregan grabbed the largest of those eponymous bells, piled stage right in Matthew De Gumbia's beautifully lit idea lab of a set, and tied it in front of his groin, slinging it side to side in deep plie. "This is the sound of dancing," Circo Zero founder Keith Hennessey whispered as Ledoh, a wide-eyed roaming Shaman, rang the smallest bell in eerily slow cadence. "This is the sound of toe shoes," he continued, as Ballet Frankfurt dancer Amy Raymond pattered across the stage, tracing slinky Forsythian patterns with her arms and hips. "This is the sound of pain," he hissed, as Motion Lab's Kathleen Hermesdorf mockingly rose onto the tips of her bare feet. Ledoh and the bird-like Hermesdorf more than carried their weight in this wild exchange of thought in motion: When Darren Johnston, one of four excellent live musicians, began a series of ungainly blats on his trumpet, Hermesdorf followed the lead with outrageous literalism and obsessively began blowing, too. The performance really was that spontaneous. Even the lighting would sometimes instigate the dance by defining a space to which the dancers could react; it also reacted to the dancing by flashing a red spotlight on a promising new development. At pone point, KUNST-STOFF's Yannis Adonious waded his way into the audience to set up for the next ioke, then abortively shoved his way back out gain to join the fresh round of chaos erupting onstage -- meanwhile, tearing off his shirt in split-second one-upmanship as he streaked past a bare-chested Hennessey. Every performer contributed a particular spirit to the motley mix, but Adoniou deserves utmost credit, not only for conceiving and curating "14 Bells." Adoniou, a promising but still developing choreographer, is a precociously first-rate producer. Every presentaion his company KUNST-STOFF touches -- like the BAP Arts gala three months back, and the new "ArtRisk" serious introduced last month -- attracts a large, young, and engaged audience. The performance often are uneven, but always intriguing. With more than 25 choreographers on the lineup, Summerfest has long been nothing if not, uneven. I have to admit I've had moments of dreading all the slogging through in years' past. But discovery is a state of mind, and Adoniou's risky "14 Bells" brought that excitement back to Summerfest, just as KUNST-STOFF has brought it back to the dance scene at large.