Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Ahnen

Posted: April 30th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Ahnen

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Ahnen, Sadler’s Wells, April 25

Dominique Mercy, Lutz Förster, Michael Strecker in Ahnen (photo: Laszlo Szito)

Dominique Mercy, Lutz Förster, Michael Strecker in Ahnen (photo: Laszlo Szito)

Pina Bausch once said in an interview, “Don’t try to understand me. Pay attention to the piece and then you’ll know.” At two hours and 30 minutes, some critics have found it difficult to pay attention to Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch’s Ahnen and resolve the issue by suggesting the work would be improved by editing (which means shortening). When asked what he was trying to say in a work he had just played, Beethoven apparently simply played it again. With digital recording technology we can listen to music over and over again whenever we wish and come to ‘understand’ it in the way Beethoven meant, but this is not the case with dance. In one viewing one cannot possibly understand the complex layering of fragments that constitute Ahnen; but you can pay attention. In the same way we cannot possibly understand the complexity of daily life but we can pay attention to what is going on around us. We can notice how people walk in the street, how they hold themselves, how they look, how they sit at a café table sipping coffee, what they are eating and what dietary trend they might be following; how people argue amongst themselves, how violence can seep into a conversation and how gestures speak volumes. How old age has its serenity and its loneliness and how desperately funny some situations are. How unconnected events carry on in the background while something else is happening right in front of us and yet in the visual plane, like a photograph, they are connected. How we think, how fear can dominate our thinking, how memories hold us in their powerful gaze, how the erotic can manifest so suggestively or be suppressed, how rituals can inform our way of life, how the actions of others can appear to start and end without warning as we pass by. How we victimise others in our thoughts and imagine ways of dealing with them; how appearances can be deceptive; how we might hide our true feelings; how music affects our perception, how landscape affects our mood. How newspaper images can appear surreal in the context of our viewing. Bausch is an acute observer of human life and she trained her company to observe. Each of her works is the sublimation into a theatrical form of months of observation by the entire company, of choreographic ideas, of questions and responses, of images, of musical suggestions, possible set designs and endless editing. And yet what may have started as personal observations or reflections has a universal value. If we pay attention we may even see ourselves.

Bausch once said, “Each person in the audience is part of the piece in a way; you bring your own experience, your own fantasy, your own feeling in response to what you see. There is something happening inside. You only understand it if you just let that happen; it’s not something you can do with your intellect.”

Like a beautiful photographic image, Ahnen, like all of Bausch’s works, is wrapped in a seductive visual package; each small element — costumes (by Marion Cito) and props (from café tables to sewing machines to a full size walrus) — and the overall design that Peter Pabst makes into a single set like a frame through which we see the characters but which is also an integral part of the action. The stage is a forest of cacti, some giant some smaller, some like caricatures of silent semaphore and others, like the one dead centre, light-heartedly phallic. According to Sarah Crompton’s interview with Pabst in the program, there was a lot of fun in the making of this set. ‘The inspiration was “just a photograph of a landscape full of cactus which I thought was nice. Somehow Pina liked it too.”’ To make the model Pabst ‘went to the café where Bausch bought cakes each day and asked for a piping bag, which he filled with soft plaster and piped his cactus — all 60 of them.’ Once the production company had made them stage size, Pabst found the solution for the needles: an old factory on the outskirts of Wuppertal where they made brooms with nylon bristles. Helped by ‘everyone in the theatre’ to fix the needles in time for the opening, Pabst then blasted each spike with the heat of a paint stripper to make it less regular. “I started a third career as a hairdresser to cactus…It was very silly and very funny.” It is worth remembering this ludic creativity so as not to approach a work like Ahnen with too much seriousness. It is a notion that Christiana Morganti touches on: ‘I really don’t have anything to say; I just wanted to show you how I look…Actually I don’t give a shit. Actually I do give a shit but it doesn’t matter, right?’

Bausch again: “Dancers ask me always ‘What are we going to do; what will it be in the end?’ I can never answer this, because the thing is I don’t know too what it’s going to be. And somehow it happens. I just make the way it happens.”

There is a poignant sense of looking back in Ahnen, a respectful nostalgia that the music conveys, that Julie Anne Stanzak embodies so hauntingly with a love heart painted on her face looking wistfully at her past as she tries to rub clean her slate; that the great wind machine suggests as it blows newspapers across the stage while a stoic Jean Laurent Sasportes in American Indian headdress guards his ancestral ground; that is enshrined in Ditta Miranda Jasjfi making offerings to the egos of the house and the squirrels and touched with humour as Dominique Mercy, wrapped in a deckchair, sings L’Amour Est Un Oiseau Rebelle from Carmen while Lutz Förster next to him translates it phrase by phrase to an impassive Michael Strecker replete with Manchurian whiskers and elongated eyes. There is an added poignancy to this nostalgia: Ahnen shows the company dealing with its own past while living fully in the present.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Auf dem Gebirge

Posted: April 20th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Auf dem Gebirge

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Auf dem Gebirge, Sadler’s Wells, May 17

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in Aug dem Gebirge (photo: Karl-Heinz Krauskopf)

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in Auf dem Gebirge (photo: Karl-Heinz Krauskopf)

What a pleasure to see Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal again at Sadler’s Wells; quite apart from the stimulation of Bausch’s scintillating and dark imagination it is the quality of performance that is so refreshing. Dominique Mercy and Lutz Förster’s soft shoe duet in the second half of Auf dem Gebirge is brilliant in its shabby simplicity, in its evocation of master and servant, of old friends, of two clowns or tramps, all in one. Michael Strecker’s, fleshy, disfigured presence doesn’t miss a menacing beat throughout and Ditta Miranda Jasjfi’s tearful stand interrupted by the audience piling out to the bar in the intermission is theatrical presence on a stoic scale. The entire company is as note perfect as a fine symphony orchestra and they perform without their conductor. They reveal themselves in all their simplicity and complexity; that is what Bausch wanted of them. It occurred to me that for each member of the company the performance of Bausch’s works since her death must be a form of re-living her constant enquiry and coaxing (however hard that might have been) that are at the heart of each work. In her obituary of Bausch in 2009, Deborah Jowitt mourned for the company as ‘a particular, intimate extension of her own body and creative mind.’ Fortunately, like a family that has survived the departure of a parent, her company is still performing in her spirit.

Another aspect of a Bausch performance is the completeness of the elements. The music is never simply an accompaniment but a calibrated tuning of the drama through Bausch’s long collaboration with Matthias Burkert and Andreas Eisenschneider; Auf dem Gebirge’s score comprises a crackly recording of Billy Holiday’s powerful Strange Fruit, a symphonic anthem by Mendelssohn, rock and roll, songs sung by the dancers and a brass band playing on stage. And then there are the settings, the visual frame of the dramas. In an interview with set designer Peter Pabst in the program, Sarah Crompton reveals the way he worked with Bausch: ‘Pabst would spend time in rehearsals as Bausch asked the dancers questions and they responded. As he watched, ideas and images would come into his mind, and he would begin to place drawings and photographs on the large table where Bausch sat. “If she didn’t say anything, I would just take it away and try something else because apparently it was not good enough. I would never try to push anything — it had to be so good that she would react.” Pabst describes Auf dem Gebirge as a ‘collection of images which are created by the dancers on stage, so I don’t think I made a model.’ He found himself thinking of a ploughed field. “It was a period where Pina was interested in reducing dance. She liked the idea of having really difficult ground — grass in 1980, carnations in Nelken, and this” — ‘this’ being a stage with a slight rake covered in 10 cubic metres (or 2 tons) of soil.

Auf dem Gebirge (or to give it its full name, Auf dem Gebirge hat man ein Geschrei gehört, which translates as On the Mountain a Cry Was Heard) is stark, both in its burnt earth landscape with felled fir trees and smoke and in its choreographic imagery. The title refers to Herod’s murder of the innocents (Hannah Weibye nails it precisely) but even without this knowledge it is Bausch’s imagination — by definition outside the realm of rational dissection — that allows us the freedom to respond to her work in our own way. If we laugh — and there are moments of parody and surreal imagery in the darkness — cry, are outraged or annoyed, we will not be unmoved.

This is perhaps because Bausch shares her work with her dancers; she does not direct them to illustrate her observations (as a painter might direct his or her own imagination on to the canvas) but allows them to respond to her questioning. An idea in her head might appear on stage diffracted through a dancer’s own sensibility even if it remains anchored to her original stimulus. The resulting images, edited scrupulously by Bausch, do not form a linear narrative but are imbued with a time and place, many times and places, or the same time and place repeatedly. She deals in the perception of vertical time on stage — the intensity of fragments of time —while we in the audience might be concerned with horizontal time, looking for the links between those moments. In this sense her work is filmic, moving forwards, backwards and sideways, up and down to capture a form for her imagination. Perhaps Pabst’s style of working with Bausch is similar to the way the dancers worked with her. If they responded in a way that caught her imagination she could work with it. If not, it didn’t appear. It says a lot that these dancers were raised to always strive to bring out their full potential for Bausch; she was the choreographer but also, as she insisted, part of the audience. Now she is gone, they can strive only to perform these works to the best of their ability. It raises questions for the future, but for now we are fortunate to be able to see them at work.

From Thursday until Sunday this week the company will be performing another work from the 1980s: Ahnen. Treat yourself to a ticket if you can.