“Wiesenland”, Tantztheater Wuppertal, chor. Pina Bausch, Sadler's Wells, London, 8th July, 2012
So, the huge Pina Bausch cities festival has ended its five week run: ten works and around sixty hours of Tanztheater – more than has been seen here over the past five years. And the final work, “Wiesenland”, inspired and made in Budapest in 2000, is one of the most approachable. The set is gorgeous – a wall of moss with spring water dripping down is transformed in the second half to a meadow for the dancers to gamble upon. The solo dancing is brilliant – tailored to each dancer's strengths and employing the whole body to carve vivid shapes in space.
The primary theme is love – a Hungarian priority, and the performers are superb whether in humorous vignettes or interacting with the audience exchanging amorous histories. Bausch demanded the highest skill levels in many directions, and always managed to inspire her dancers to greater things. For this performance I sat behind Artistic Director, Dominique Mercy: dictating corrections and comments to an assistant alongside, so that his gaze was always on the stage; jigging in his seat for several of the solos and laughing fit to burst at comic monologues he must have heard so many times before. His joy from the work is undimmed.
Tropes from earlier productions reappear: water is much to the fore – poured, spat, dripped; animals – this time chickens in a rural idyll.. The second half is shorter than any of the other city performances, a mere 60 minutes, and the positive virtues of this emphasised the need for editing of some of the works; editing which will never take place, due to Bausch's revered status.
So, there's no question that this is an art work with a lot to give.. And yet, and yet, it doesn't strike all the chords for me. With its repeated focus on beauty - for instance, the dancers in exquisite frocks - “Wiesenland” is a one-sided vision of a country with many problems, as well as the delights we are shown. By chance, in the afternoon, I saw English National Opera's “Billy Budd”, with music of genius, imaginative sets and excellent performances. But what takes it to a higher level for me is the exploration of deep levels of human experience, and for all their craft and brilliance, too many of the Bausch cities works spend too much time on a superb surface.
I'm pleased that the huge success of the season means that Wuppertal visits will be regular and frequent. My hope is that we can explore some deeper examples from the rep, along with the lighter works.