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Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal - 2 Reviews

[Two views of Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal's recent appearance in London -- ed.]


Songs the color of carnations, flowers like wounds

February 17, 2005 -- Sadler's Wells, London

Review by Ramsay Burt

A pervasive air of nostalgia surrounds the current visit of Pina Bausch's Tanztheater Wuppertal to Sadler's Wells Theatre. Many of the critics have dredged up yet again the old rhetoric about Bausch's cruel world of victims and abused women while the souvenir programme is full of reminiscences by eminent British actors and directors - including Alan Rickman and Neil Bartlett - about the impact Bausch's work had on them when they saw her company during its first London season back in 1982.

And here we are 23 years later with the London premier of the piece she made that year, "Nelken", with its now famous set of a field of plastic carnations that, as the evening progresses, are gradually trampled down by dancers, security guards restraining uneasy Alsatian dogs, and stunt men. And here at last is Dominique Mercy shouting 'What do you want? What do you want?' and pushing himself to perform the bravura ballet feats he has been showing in this piece for over two decades - 'Is this what you want?'

When it was new, Mercy's solo was part of Bausch's radical critique of the social construction of the dancing body. It was not just that dancers talked, but the fact that they talked about their roles as dancers in ways that troubled and disturbed aesthetic norms. In the early 1980s Bausch told Raimund Hoghe - then her dramaturg, now much in demand as a dancer and performance artist - none of the company were against dance: 'But what I consider beautiful and important here, I do not want to touch for the time being - because I think it is so important. You have to learn something different first, then perhaps you can dance again'.

And of course Bausch and her dancers learnt what it was they needed to learn some time ago and started dancing again. The pieces she has created in the last fifteen or so years - like "Masurca Fogo" which was shown at Sadler's Wells in 2002 - are lighter in tone and have lots of danced solos that are set to music and use movement material that clearly has its origins in the work of Laban and Joos.

So when Mercy asks 'What do you want?' in London in 2005, it sounds like he's asking, why do London audiences still want to see this old stuff? Don't they realise times have changed? Back in the 1980s, Jan Minarik chased and caught the transvestite who bunny hopped through the field of carnations, smacked his bottom, and demanded to see his passport. Germany was still a divided country.  Cold war generals rehearsed war game scenarios while women peace campers protested against the deployment of cruise missiles outside American airforce bases in Southern England. In Germany and elsewhere 'Passport please' had a chilling ring for anyone with vaguely left-wing sympathies. Now it is mostly people with olive complexions and Muslim-sounding names who have to worry.

Minarik's role has been taken over by Andrey Berezin who brings to it an appropriate sense of gravitas that matches the extremely assured and resonant performances of veteran and returning company members like Mercy, Lutz Forster, and Nazareth Pandero.

I didn't see "Nelken" until 1995 when it was on at the Edinburgh Festival, but saw "Kontakthof" in the early 1980s. My memory is that it was an edgy and uncomfortable theatrical experience, while "Nelken" in 2005 seems gentler. It is no longer a cruel world of victims and abusers but a warm one in which dancers are trying to reach out and make one-to-one contact with their audience and celebrate the fact that, despite the way things seemed when this piece was new, we're still here, older and maybe a little wiser.

In the 1980s Tanztheater Wuppertal were one of the most sought after radical companies on the international arts festival circuit. In the 1990s that role passed to a younger generation of dance makers including Bel, LeRoy, Plischke, and Ruckert, who in continental Europe are now perhaps beginning to run the risk of overexposure even though London audiences still haven't had a chance to see their major works. So the questions I would really like the answer to are (1) why did we have to wait 23 years for "Nelken" to come to London? And (2) will London audience have to wait another 23 years to see the major European dance works of the 2000s?


'Palermo Palermo'

Witnessing the madness from centre orchestra

Review by Lyndsey Winship

February 17, 2005 -- Sadler's Wells, London

How many images, words and ideas can one brain process at a time? Not enough surely to fully appreciate a Pina Bausch piece. Bausch often seems more akin to a visual artist than a choreographer, and you want to treat a single scene of this two-and-a-half hour show as you would a canvas or installation in a gallery. To look at it again, from a different angle, to hold it up for scrutiny, to let your mind wander. You need to spend time getting into what it’s getting at.

But when you’re witnessing the madness unfold from a theatre seat, I find it hard to make the fragments add up into a whole, cohesive and enriching performance. Perhaps that’s not the point anyway.

It’s an arresting experience; a huge brick wall collapses, five pianists play against a backdrop of endless sky, a dog gallops onstage to gobble up his dinner - there’s no shortage of striking images as the cast of 25 play out snatches of memories, characters, stories and slapstick. And when they do occasionally dance it’s fabulous, whether frantic on-the-spot riffing or ominous ensemble manoeuvres.

Food and water make copious appearances throughout the show (read into that notions of life, nourishment, drought, plenty, or what you will). Three tomatoes are shot with a pistol, an egg is fried on a hot iron, someone turns a loaf of bread into a shoe, the whole cast pelt the back wall with vegetables. It is in turns absurd, comic, distressing, boring and baffling.

Yet amid this surreal bombardment there are moments that really pique the emotions, or wriggle their way to the back of our minds to meet with our own memories. And it’s then that you realise Bausch is a bit of a genius after all.

It’s probably blasphemous to say so, but to be honest, I prefer pieces I’ve seen by her followers, like Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. They feel more current (which they are - "Palermo, Palermo" was made in 1989).  They seem to have a clearer point (as much as these things are ever clear). They make more use of their performers’ amazing physical capabilities and even turn it up a notch in terms of spectacle. But that’s just my opnion. If there was ever a choreographer who incites a subjective reaction from her audience, it’s Pina Bausch.

Edited by Staff.

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