Photo by Chelsea Rowe

Looking Back to Move Forward: A Continued Conversation with Yannis Adoniou and Tomi Paasonen

Friday, November 1, 2013

Looking Back to Move Forward: A Continued Conversation with Yannis Adoniou and Tomi Paasonen


This article was originally published in the November 2013 issue of In Dance, a monthly publication by Dancers' Group, serving the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond.

Yannis Adoniou and Tomi Paasonen announced that come January 2014 KUNST-STOFF Dance Company (KSDC) will no longer operate as a traditional company based solely out of San Francisco. The two co-founders and longtime friends have decided to open KUNST-STOFF up as an international production company that will be based out of Europe and will focus on creating and curating multinational co-productions and collaborations.

Amid this approaching transition, it seems fitting that KUNST-STOFF will present its15th-Year Retrospective Anniversary Season at ODC Theater November 8-10. What makes this retrospective especially unique is the way in which Adoniou and Paasonen are not simply uncritically nostalgic about the past but instead are taking the opportunity—on the verge of a new era—to consciously look back at 15 years of art making with the understanding that the past, present and future continually intersect.

In three performances with two different programs, Adoniou and Paasonen will present: A Solo for Yannis (SF 2008), the American premiere of Those Golden Years(Berlin 2012) as well as feature the world premieres of Paasonen’s Giga Hz and Adoniou’s two newest works Back to 1999 and 98-13.

dancers on the floor in bright colors

KUNST-STOFF Dance Company
Photo By Voula-Saloniki

In 98-13 Adoniou is bringing back sections of his works from 1998 to 2013 into a present-day collage of different choreographic materials, costumes, music and characters. Adoniou is not interested in typical hierarchical choreographer-dancer dynamics but instead seeks to create works collaboratively. Thus it makes sense that in 98-13 he is giving the current KSDC artists the freedom to find their own voices in relation to the past works. Adoniou explains, “Characters and situations from the past collide into [a] mosaic of different circumstances and personalities. We’re bringing back past choreographic material that evokes and honors the characters from those earlier works but we’re not trying to mimic or copy those voices. Rather, with the current artists of KSDC, we’re looking at what is relevant today.”

By revealing various segments rather than a single full work from the past, 98-13gives the viewer a wider range to examine KSDC’s trajectory. For Adoniou the point isn’t to replicate past outcomes but rather create new ones: “We’re looking for those moments that in a way have the deepest imprint. The piece isn’t necessarily an accurate documentary of the past but that’s not the point. The outcome will hopefully be to have a new work that is fresh, multi-faceted, multi-themed and hits new points of awareness of what is in the present. When you use the history or past you have a platform to go further in a way,” says Adoniou.

Similarly reflecting on the past, Adoniou’s Back to 1999 becomes a platform for comparing and contrasting the events of 1999 to the technology of 2013. 1999 looks at the way we communicate and identify with each other through the lens of camp sensibilities and comedic situations. Adoniou explains, “I’m interested in building characters that reveal how our alter egos and online personalities effect our day-to-day communication with other people.”

Using the structure of a musical as a jumping off point, Adoniou weaves a certain aspect of freshness and campiness into 1999 that emphasizes the essence of movement as a source of vibration and joy. In collaboration with Kinetech, 1999 will feature a colorful and stimulating visual and video design that compliments the spirit of the 90’s and reveals the unleashed personalities of the performers.
Continually interested in the ways in which movement organizes our existence and natural bodies, Adoniou is after what makes something authentic and engaging. He says, “As we become stronger technicians and art makers, instead of hiding behind our techniques, we should be using them to build a stronger platform in which we can reveal ourselves.” Revealing one’s self in an honest and vulnerable way lies at the core of all of KSDC’s works but is especially apparent in the two collaborations between Adoniou and Paasonen— A Solo for Yannis and Paasonen’s Those Golden Years.

Those Golden Years directed by Paasonen and performed by Adoniou reconstructs a dream Paasonen had the night before his mother passed away. In the piece the performer is vulnerable and exposed dancing the entirety of the piece in the nude, but as Adoniou explains, “the nude is not a way of shocking or exposing sexuality but rather exposing a vulnerable state.” Likewise, A Solo for Yannis, a work developed in dialogue with Alonzo King that asks many large questions such as “when have you felt most alive and what did that feel like?” exposes a similar vulnerable state of pure performance presence and expressivity of a single artist.

Just as all of the works revisit material and themes from the past, Paasonen’s new work Giga Hz recalls its earlier iteration, Mega Hz, which was created for the opening season of KSDC in 1998. Mega Hz was conceived within a time when San Francisco was waking up to the aftermath of the AIDS epidemic and the Internet was reaching critical mass. 15 years later, Giga Hz looks at the consequences of the “dot com boom” and questions how a constant fragmented information flow affects our thinking and our bodies.

When asked about the work Paasonen explains, “Mega Hz from 1998 was constructed in the format of zapping through channels. The choreography was repeated through the idea of automated ‘play’, ‘rewind’ and ‘f.f.’ modes of a VCR. The sexual aspect of the piece was expressed with through the use of condoms and dancers mummified in beige nylon socks. 1998 was the year I bought my first computer, so the Internet reality really had not entered my perception at that time I created the piece. Giga Hzwill be much more based on simultaneous, overlapped fragmented distraction-based structurelessness and the mental chaos of a flickering buzzing network.”

Employing a neon, technicolor like palette, and playing with different types of materiality—from condom balloons filled with water to mesh nylons to plastic duck tape—Giga Hz looks at the ways we consume, produce and immerse ourselves in a constant flow of disconnected information.

When asked about the relationship between art and new media and whether or not it’s necessary for artists to make adjustments to the way they work in order to prosper in today’s technologically mediated society Paasonen replies, “I do not think that artists need to make any other adjustments than the ones that ring true to themselves and their own point of view. Many visual and media artists tend to have a fear of exposing their works on the internet, because once it’s out there, its contextual point of view and distribution cannot be controlled and its relevance in the gallery setting is threatened. Who would buy a video piece that is already freely available on youtube?”

Adoniou and Paasonen aren’t interested in creating fixed works and so it makes sense that they are pushing KUNST- STOFF beyond the comforts of a fixed home. In opening KUNST-STOFF up as an international production company Adoniou and Paasonen will have the fluidity and freedom to bring more artists together in collaborative settings.

It is this fluidity and immateriality that Paasonen finds so beautiful in dance. Paasonen comments, “One of the things that I so love about the art of dance and performance is its immateriality. It can only be evoked but will never be exactly the same. In the same sense, the entities, platforms and structures through which we produce this immateriality, can be as fluid and malleable as our imagination for movement in this dance of life. They morph with the needs of the choreography of our lives.”

Like dance, cities morph. With a new wave of apps developers, software engineers and start-up companies moving into San Francisco, the city is changing. While not necessarily good or bad, change is inevitable. For KUNST-STOFF morphing into a more fluid entity gives it the power to adapt to the changes that continually face artist communities. For Adoniou and Paasonen opening KUNST-STOFF up allows them a wider scope to engage in collaborative experimental art making.

How the rehearsal and performance space KUNST-STOFF arts plays in to it all is still being figured out. Adoniou explains, “KUNST-STOFF arts is a part of the evolution of SF and we are looking to see how that will fit into the new ecology that is happening now…we’re talking to different people to see how we can stabilize the space within the rapidly changing structure of the city and art making. We’d like to keep it with its primary focus that the artist is the art.”

This month KSDC will take the stage at ODC Theater. From there the future is unwritten.

Yet for Adoniou, Paasonen and the contributing artists of KSDC, in that uncertainty lies endless potential. Adoniou says, “I think for every artist it’s not about where you feel most comfortable, or where the most comfort is but instead where the place is that you can be most challenged. Find that and find where the work starts.”

KUNST-STOFF’s 15th-Year Retrospective Anniversary Season will perform Fri-Sat, Nov 8-9, 8pm; Sun, Nov 9, 7pm, $25-45 at ODC Theater, 3153 17th St, SF,


About Katie Gaydos

Katie Gaydos is a freelance dance writer and has contributed to The Daily Californian, The San Francisco Bay Guardian, In Dance, and Emmaly Wiederholt’s blog Stance On Dance. Katie has been dancing with KUNST-STOFF Dance Company since Fall 2011.