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Pina Bausch Wuppertal Tanztheater

'Ten Chi'

by Toba Singer

November 16, 2007 – Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, CA

For as long as the nation states remain vehicles for distributing or monopolizing wealth, no matter how outdated they’ve become in the context of increased cross-cultural communication and advanced technology, their anomalies will be the grist for our plays, choreography and exhibitions. After all, where else besides the graveyard would those pesky anomalies find a permanent home?

Where once Daimler Benz, Dortmunde and Volkswagen comprised the grundrisse of the world’s technology and attendant concentration of capital, now it looks like Asian competitors are threatening to upset the Euro-intoxicated Weltanshuaang. The theatrically and choreographically brilliant Pina Bausch has determined that such a shift is culturally noteworthy and she so she gives us “Ten Chi,” which  with Bausch’s company Wuppertal, made its way to Zellerbach Auditorium in Berkeley on November 16, 2007.

To Chinese dulcimer accompaniment, a fluid dancer in a willowy-but-not-billowy yellow dress, whose name may be Na Young Kim, opens the piece with a series of engrossing, perfectly-timed movements that with increased urgency send her entire body along all its possible directional axes. She is miming bird wings and then drops suddenly to the floor. Next it’s bourrées cross-hatched with pendulum swings that end up with vibrating buttocks. It can be so mesmerizing as to be hypnotic – or even sleep-inducing.

Men in black join the women in peacock-like steps across a shifting plane. With great gusto, a dancer rips off swatches of tulle from her costume, her partner unburdening her of most of what remains, turning the tide from dulcet “pure movement” to something along the more ignoble lines of hedonistic lust. Slumber no longer beckons – you’ve got my attention now – even while distracted by feelings of sympathy for the company’s wardrobe mistress. Still, onstage a dream unfolds around things nocturnal, prompted by a little tutorial on snoring led by Dominique Mercy, the company’s eminence grise from back in the day when every self-respecting European businessman required and would buy his watch on the Rhine.

Then a metronome changes the mood again back to silk and away from theatrics. To and fro it goes for more than two hours of flawless showmanship, buttressed by the acting skills of the gravel-voiced Mechtilde Großmann and the fearless dancing of Eddie Martínez. There are bejeweled little boîte moments, such as a male dancer who tucks the train of his female partner’s long white evening gown into the collar of his shirt like a dinner napkin. It makes us feel grateful that the spirit of Victor Borge is alive and well in Europe today. On the other hand, a mocking recitation of the glut of Japanese-made popular communication technology is where the music stops in a “Cabaret”- like moment. To me these words – spoken in jest by a European artist today – congeal into a cultural gesture reflective of the cutthroat economic competition increasingly felt between vestigial nation states. In the not-too-distant future, I fear that those damen und herren who live through it, will look back upon this script as a less-than-innocent, less-than-jocular salvo in the propaganda prelude to World War III.  Whither Joel Grey?

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