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Pina Bausch

‘Fur die Kinder von Gestern, Heute und Morgen’ (‘For the Children of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow’)

by Cecly Placenti

November 16, 2004 -- Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, New York

One day the sun entangled himself in a tree and the earth plunged into darkness. To save the world, a little squirrel gnawed day and night at the tree branches, losing his fur and tail to the scorching heat of the sun. But on and on he worked until he finally freed the heavenly orb. As a reward, the sun granted the naked creature dream of flight, and the little squirrel became the first bat. So goes the Native American myth “How the Bat Came to Be.” This tale, full of hope, compassion, selflessness, and representing the best inside us all, was in part Pina Bausch’s inspiration for “Fur die Kinder von Gestern, Heute und Morgen” (“For the Children of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow”) which made its American premiere on November sixteenth at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival.  Watching Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, I left with a very strong sense of community, hope, and life.  

The evening length piece was presented in a series of non-linear vignettes ranging from funny, to bizarre, to beautiful, and created an overall feeling rather than making a didactic statement. The audience was taken on a journey by the performers, and the sense of shared experiences pervaded the opera house. It did not matter whether you could not explain a particular vignette or understand it as a separate entity because each segment left you with a feeling of the familiar in a new light, a personal light, and the evening evolved as layer upon layer of rich feeling.  

The way the performers related to and regarded one another was beautifully human and genuine, never pretentious or affected, thereby creating a sense of community, both on stage and within the audience through their deep commitment and sensitivity to each other, the movement, gestures, and theatrical elements. The opening vignette evoked a loud synchronous gasp from the audience as two men sat on a table, one slowly tipping over the edge only to be caught at the very last moment before hitting the floor. Thus the weaving of connection between performer and audience began.  

For more than thirty years and in more than thirty-five full length works, Pina Bausch has established her own style of contemporary dance through the development of her Tanztheater (dance theater). Through her work she has aimed to define human existence from its mundane to its magnanimity of loss, love, and aging. In her unique way, she delves into the extremes of human feeling using speech or danced phrases, repeated actions, and simple gestures and presents what she finds there.  

“Fur die Kinder” has a cast of fourteen dancers, a musical collage by Matthias Burkert, and set design by Peter Pabst. The topic of children is an important one to Bausch who sees them as a symbol of hope whose fragility is shared by all. Childhood’s complex mix of innocence and misery interests her primarily for the residue it leaves in the adult. Her dancers often move, act, and speak as if unaware of consequences, much the way children do. The piece is about unearthing innocence in complicated times. Attempting to categorize this work is difficult and, in my opinion, fruitless. It is not something that can be described exactly, but it is something you can see, feel, and know without being able to formulate. The movement, both dance and pedestrian, was incredibly sensual and elements of ballet, modern, jazz, and African dance were recognizable yet blurred into something refreshingly unique.  

The structure reminded me of expressionist painting—loosely familiar yet abstract. The dancers are fine technicians and highly evocative performers who can let loose with abandonment and at the same time surprise with strength and athleticism. These tremendously committed performers are able to weave a tale by easily slipping into and out of mediums, blending dance, theater, and performance art seamlessly and equally. At the end of the evening, one dancer read the beautiful Native American fable of the bat, and one after the other each dancer came onstage using movement they had used before, throwing all of themselves into it over and over, giving more and more each time, and it was like an offering, a prayer. The music sounded like angel voices rejoicing and the lights faded on that uplifting image, leaving the room alive with the hope of getting close again to things we have lost.


Edited by Holly Messitt

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