Photo by Chelsea Rowe

Intimate Kunst-Stoff returns to playful form

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Rachel Howard, Chronicle Dance Correspondent San Francisco Chronicle The experimental postmodern ballet troupe Kunst-Stoff instantly became one of San Francisco's most promising companies when it appeared in 1998. Much has changed since. This past weekend's 11th annual home season trumpeted "Yannis Adoniou's Kunst-Stoff," as co-founder Tomi Paasonen and the longtime dancers have left. Yet, with a cast that has been pared to four relative newcomers, this was some of Adoniou's most engaging work in many a season. Saturday's two world premieres felt like a return to the playful and bold Kunst-Stoff of yore, enriched by experience. Setting was key: After uneven attempts to make dances for large proscenium stages, Adoniou has returned to intimacy. He arranged the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum with the audience on four sides, only two rows deep and on ground level with the dancers. From the east front row rose violinist Paul Festa, crossing the floor in red pencil skirt and false eyelashes, playing two slow repeating notes. The two notes are the foundation of the mournful Alfred Schnittke string quartet (arranged for solo violin by Nathaniel Stookey) from which "(Where) Every Verse Is Filled With Grief" adapts its title. The dance had a beautifully clear, propulsive form. Justin Andrews and Marina Fukushima shared a duet in which they were constantly touching, yet emotionally distant; then Spencer Dickhaus and Suzanne Lappas took the floor in jeans and swaths of red for a swirling dance in which they never touched but felt always connected. Dickhaus has a long, adolescently lean body and can rise from Adoniou's vocabulary of slinky crouches and broken-angled limbs into an exquisitely turned-out retire position or a classically pristine arabesque turn. Lappas does not have the finesse of extensive ballet training but brings a punk intensity. Both spent a lot of time with hands planted to the floor, legs waving above, building to a climax of side-by-side synchronicity. Festa's live performance contributed immeasurably. Adoniou collaborated with dramaturge Talal Al-Muhana on "Rags al Moza," a free-associating piece of absurdist dance theater that falls short as cultural commentary, but succeeds as a framework for bits of beautiful movement experimentation. An interesting elbow-pushing duet was set to Radiohead, and a looser duet to Tom Waits; David Petrelli DJ'd the score live, also mixing original music by Alex Davis. Fukushima was gamely but never too cute, whether asking an audience member to feed her a banana or flailing in Dickhaus' arms. Kunst-Stoff tours Europe this summer before returning for a residency at CounterPULSE. The troupe is clearly in a groove.