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Tanztheater Wuppertaal Pina Bausch


by David Mead

June 28, 2012 -- Barbican Theatre, London, UK

Trees. Palm trees. Blowing in the wind. That is the most striking memory of “Água”, Pina Bausch’s piece made in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut in São Paulo. Those trees are on a huge video that dominates the stage for much of the evening, covering three sides and often the floor too. Apart from trees, there was the sea, rivers, forests, birds soaring and, finally, waterfalls. There was not a single sighting of a vehicle or a city, not even much in the way of buildings, and, apart from some close ups of men sailing and a group of drummers, not much in the way of people either. Where was the buzzing metropolis? OK, we all have different memories and impressions of places, bu where was the real Brazil; at least the Brazil I recognise? What was also odd, given that they come from Asia, was the presence in one clip of orang-utans. Still, it was all beautifully shot. It could have been an ad for the Brazilian Tourist Board.

But what of the action? “Água” certainly communicated the laid back nature of Brazil. Having said that, there really seemed very little substantive content. Or am I suffering from ‘Bausch fatigue’? Whatever, the video certainly overpowered the dance. More than once I had to pull myself away from the film and back to the live action. The end was impressive, though, dancers spraying each other with the amazingly spectacular Iguassu Falls behind. That came shortly after a scene had them tapping the falls bringing water to the stage via a makeshift pipe.

Elsewhere, I do recall thinking that the women’s hair looked a bit like the palm trees swaying. There was one part where the ladies turned cartwheels and somersaults over the men’s backs. Oh yes, and there was the time a woman stroked her legs with a hairbrush. An amusing interlude came when one woman tries to dance a solo, but is constantly interrupted by another telling of her parents attempts to get her to dance and her experiences in a ballet school. A beach scene where the dancers held up towels with images of ‘ideal’ bodies in front of their own also brought a smile. But it was mostly very light, including lots inconsequential cocktail party nothingness that included much lolling around on white sofas; nice white sofas mind you. There were occasional hints of darker Bausch, notably when Julie Shanahan spoke of longing for love and attention that remained out of reach because everything and everyone was “impossible” and because she was “so forgettable”.

The music didn’t help. Largely a selection of Brazilian pop tunes, it was pleasant enough, and certainly more varied than the accompaniment for “Bamboo Blues”, but hardly striking.

It has long been acknowledged that Bausch’s later works are sifter and have a more positive, light and upbeat feel to them. They certainly provide more chances for the dancers to show they can dance; and very well too. All this has been put down to her mellowing and to an influx of new, younger dancers into the troupe. The pieces are still assuredly Bausch. They still show many of her trademarks. But they also have much less content and lack any sort of cutting edge of much of her earlier creations. They may be easier on the eye and the brain, but in other ways they are much harder going.

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