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Tanztheater Wuppertaal Pina Bausch

'Ten Chi'

by Charlotte Kasner

June 15, 2012 -- Barbican Theatre, London, UK

“Ten Chi” takes place on a stage with a mound upstage right and, an elephant in the room in a manner of speaking, a life-size whale fluke, apparently diving down to the depths. The huge tail at times resembles a mushroom with a section bitten out of it; one almost expects to see Lewis Carroll’s caterpillar perched atop smoking his hookah. At other times it resembles a weeping, wind-wracked tree. The latter is probably the most appropriate as there is a definite flavour of Japan here.

About half way through the first half, “snow” flutters down in thicker and thicker flurries, piling up on the stage and enabling one dancer to sweep her hair through it and another to describe a circle with her foot as her partner sweeps her round in a circle. The light filtering through the “flakes” is mesmerising, creating a feeling of being within the intimacy of a snow dome, party to its internal secrets.

Dance and speech whirl through their appointed hours creating the feeling of the liminal space experienced between waking and dreaming. There are references to Fuller, Graham and Duncan. Long, silky skirts are stretched, flounced and wafted and one man even uses his partners' long, trailing white skirt as a napkin.

We are plunged between agonised frenzies of angst, slow, sensual stretches, manic jumps and existential speech. No sooner has one sequence sparked a train of thought than it moves relentlessly on: light and shade, light and shade, with a touch of Salvador Dali in between.

Bausch is not afraid of being downright funny at times. A favourite moment occurs when two men square up to each other in the manner of dogs displaying bravado. Both strike a martial arts pose in deep plies: a third dancer appears carrying two chairs which he places neatly underneath each man, thereby diffusing their anger and turning the threat into ridicule as they are forced to sit.

This is very much a work for the women. They are most feminine yet powerful, the men, mostly in black suits, one in grey, providing interludes and solos to intercut their business and carrying them vertically or horizontally. More than anything, it is of course the epitome of ensemble work of great stamina and depth and well-deserving of another standing ovation.

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