Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Masurca Fogo, Sadler’s Wells, February 9
This is difficult to write because I love the way Pina Bausch was able to distill experience into gesture and form with such elegance and wit. When she died unexpectedly in 2009, there remained her legacy of rich, exuberant works but without the exacting spirit that conceived them. Inevitably, despite the best efforts to keep the works alive by subsequent directors and by the dancers themselves, the company has had to remember this spirit instead of experience it; its focus remains on the past. For a lesser company a hiatus in its ability to maintain the repertoire after the death of its sole founder and choreographer might have happened five years ago, and it is a measure of the level of artistry in the company that we have been able for so long to enjoy the works Bausch built up from her seemingly inexhaustible creative energy. But eight years is a long time to be reviving the past and, significantly, a third of the present company never had the opportunity to work with Bausch. One of the ways she created material was to ask her dancers questions to which they would respond in movement, words in any way they felt appropriate; how can such a personal response be transferred from one dancer to another? While Masurca Fogo may not be the strongest work in Bausch’s repertoire, watching it on Thursday night I sensed the point has been reached that since the company is no longer challenged by Bausch’s presence to develop new works they appear to be losing the ability to fully inhabit her older ones. Last seen in London in 2003, Masurca Fogo is like seeing a Bausch work set on another company (I wonder how Rite of Spring will fare in the bodies of English National Ballet); it is not difficult to see the beauty in its inspiration, but its carefully conceived details — the very life of the work — had lost their brilliance for routine. There are still moments that jump out as before, like the solo of Ditta Miranda Jasjfi or the interventions of Nazareth Panadero, but these only serve to remind us what we are missing.
Nostalgia, however, is a very powerful sentiment and Bausch’s repertoire works intoxicatingly on our memories, so brightly did these works dance in their day. But has a romantic notion crept into our attendance at these revivals whereby we unwittingly accept a weakening in Bausch’s unerring sense of living theatre in return for the pleasure of seeing them again? And if this ongoing pleasure on behalf of the audience (houses continue to sell out) remains, it is clear the incentive (however well-meaning) for venues to invite the company will continue. And if this is so, is there not a danger in this drawn-out descending spiral of artistic integrity that the performers are singing the praises of their muse rather than singing their muse’s inspiration? Or worse still, are the performers — at least those who worked with Bausch —in danger of becoming parodies of their former selves and thus condemning the works to a similar fate? All these questions occurred to me after seeing Masurca Fogo.
The question of a dance legacy has been raised before, notably by Merce Cunningham who established a three-year plan to address the process of dismantling his company and Foundation after his death, and more recently by Mats Ek, who has begun to withdraw performing rights for his work where he is no longer able to personally supervise their revivals. Perhaps Bausch’s sudden death rendered unresolved any plan for her legacy. For the 2017/18 season, Adolphe Binder, will be the first ‘outsider’ to take over the artistic direction of the company. Binder will be bringing in choreographers to create new works on the dancers, but she also has the responsibility, along with the other members of the company and their collaborators, to maintain the Bausch legacy. Cunningham closed down his company and established a Trust to ‘preserve and enhance’ his legacy; Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch has taken another path but one that, judging by this performance of Masurca Fogo, does not augur well for the artistic fulfilment of Bausch’s legacy. Even if she had wished it.