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Tanztheater Wuppertaal Pina Bausch

'Nur Du'

by David Mead

June 9, 2012 -- Barbican Theatre, London, UK

After the opening stop in Rome, the World Cities season took us on a transatlantic foray to the American West. “Nur Du” came about following a mid 1990s invitation from the University of California at Berkeley and Los Angeles, Arizona State University at Tempe, and the University of Texas at Austin, along with a couple of promoters, to visit and make a piece based on her impressions. Like most of her works from that period, it has a rather brighter outlook than many of her earlier creations, and certainly was in stark contrast to the darkness of “Viktor”.

The setting yells California. The stage is framed by eight giant sequoia. It suggests an Eden. The people within it, though, are anything but perfect. In their slinky 1950s gowns designed by Marion Cito, the women seem to be cast offs from Hollywood, or maybe striving to be part of Hollywood; take your pick. An obsession with appearance is a recurring theme as they aspire to be, or to remain, beautiful.

The men, who in contrast are all in casual slacks and jackets, are not spared either. Man’s psychological and physical cruelty puts in its usual appearance. One cuts up an apple for his lover but then hands her the core before skipping off. Another suspends a woman by her hair. A third slaps a woman for no apparent reason. It’s not all like that, though. Clichéd stereotypes abound. There is the quite hilarious and most girly male hairdresser ever seen. Dominique Mercy delivers a great collage of well-known Hollywood one-liners that are put together so cleverly that they almost make sense. There are guys working out, playing with a basketball and skating, the latter using empty water bottles on the feet rather than the real thing. Money and ownership isn’t forgotten as a property magnate gazes at the forest and proudly tells us that “As far as you can see, all of this is mine!”

In general, though, the focus is on the women in both the comedy and the drama. All the time there is a sense that people are shallow and that much of what we see is superficial. The point was made right at the beginning when one of the women says “Can you imagine that under these clothes I am completely naked?” immediately followed by, “Can you imagine that under your clothes you are all completely naked?”; a question that I’m sure set many an audience member’s imagination running wild. Later, another has an instant transformation as a pair of balloons is stuffed down her chest and a blonde wig put on her head.

A repeated idea sees the women hitch up their skirts or drop their tops to reveal their breasts. They also get wrapped in plastic like flowers, and painted and drawn upon. Yet they always come back for more. A repeated scene sees one screaming, “He's got me!”, running onto the stage in terror. Then, looking into the wings, she cries, “No, he's not got me!” Elsewhere, Aida Vainieri screeches like a cat as she licks out a food container, pressing her face against the transparent plastic. She later has a tantrum any infant would be proud of when her attempts to put lipstick on go all awry. Of the comedy, the best was surely Julie Anne Stanzak’s turn as a manically overenthusiastic cheerleader.

There is plenty of dance too, much of it in the form of male solos, the men being given the chance to show off just how lithe they can be. They are all excellent. They eat up the space, their lithe dance full of graceful yet fast-moving articulated arms that circle and whirl, and precise hand gestures. The ensemble dances are worth waiting too. To the song “Sugar in the Morning”, a line of ladies flip their heads in time to the beat of the music Busby Berkeley-like. As if commenting on the uniformity of Hollywood musical gloss was not enough, when the line “Be my little sugar…” comes along, one licks from a plastic doughnut container. Shortly afterwards, a pair of oversize soft drinks cups are used as a bra.

Other highlights included a whole group of dancers being ordered to take their clothes off as if part of a parade ground drill, and Dominique Mercy in gold shorts and top posing as a statue spurting water. And, of course, there is the grinning giant plastic whale that drifts down from above, turns to the audiences before floating away again. I’m pretty sure it didn’t wink, but it felt like it.

Next stop: Santiago, Chile.

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