Photo by Chelsea Rowe

A new take on 'Sylphides'

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

by Michael Wade Simpson San Francisco Chronicle It's almost shocking to see an experimental choreographer embrace romanticism, but that's what Yannis Adoniou has done in his "Less Sylphides," a paean to the music of Chopin which was itself a drastic rethink on the original 1832 Scotsman-in-love-with-a-fairy ballet, "La Sylphide." One of the biggest cliches associated with the classical ballet - rows of ethereal dancers in long white tutus - all that started with the first "Sylphide," which also boasted a ground-breaking performance by the first superstar ballerina, Marie Taglioni. In 2005, however, does anybody really care? What Adoniou presents through his KUNST-STOFF company, wrapping up an 18-month residency at ODC Theater, is lovely without being fusty, fresh without being ironic, old-fashioned in its relationship to music, but filled with choreography that rides the edge between athletic and ethereal. His company of dancers has its technique honed, for the most part, so that actual classical vocabulary can be used as a springboard, not a source of ridicule, which would be the easier route. A strop of video paints the back wall of the theater with a vintage romantic corps-de-ballet in slow-mo, while the actual space becomes a land where earth seems to count more than air, where the white dresses are peek-a-boo nighties worn by men and women alike, and the nocturnes, mazurkas and preludes that come right off "Chopin's Greatest Hits" look both loved and looked-at, well-examined and interestingly dissected. Part of the pleasure of this production is the intimacy of the setting. KUNST-STOFF's take on lyricism, grace and emotion becomes all the more effective because it's not being telegraphed from some cavernous opera house stage. Adoniou, whose international ballet company background gives him a solid foundation from which to stray, also knows a thing or two about shape, effort and flow. His duets and trios never sink into predictability; it's as if the familiar melodies become new again, a rediscovered terrain that is hot, edgy and pretty all at once. Among the dancers, Kara Davis and Julian DeLeon lend articulation to the movements that suggest "ballet," but then shock with unusual dynamics, sudden bouts of aggression, a modern-dance hardness. Leslie Schickel opens the piece with an honest lyricism, and Brett Conway, borrowed from LINES Ballet, offers a side of himself that seems almost raw.