Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Viktor at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: February 12th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Viktor at Sadler’s Wells

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Viktor, Sadler’s Wells, February 8

Viktor

Eddie Martinez and Ophelia Young in Viktor (photo: Meyer Originals)

Peter Pabst’s set locates Viktor in a deep underground cavern surrounded on three sides by high earthen walls on which wooden ladders lean like the interior of a fortified rampart; at intervals during the performance Andrey Berezin shovels earth from the top on to the stage, an aural as much as a visual rhythm of burial. At the foot of one of the walls, rather incongruously, stands an upright piano. Even more incongruously Julie Shanahan enters armless in a scarlet dress, coming to rest like a smiling Roman goddess as Khachaturian’s Masquerade waltz swirls around her until Dominique Mercy brings a fur coat, places it over her shoulders and escorts her out. In this starkly beautiful opening scene, Pina Bausch merges the conceptions of Pabst’s sepulchral set and Marion Cito’s bright, witty costumes in her choreographic evocation of Rome, the Eternal City that inspired Viktor following an invitation to coproduce with Teatro Argentina di Roma and a company visit. There is none of the city’s classical columns or grandiose baroque architecture here but an imaginary locus in which Viktor’s symbiotic themes of death, antiquity, life and beauty play out over the next three hours, ricocheting from one surreal association to the next: from a living statue to a marriage ceremony for the dead, from bargaining two sheep on the black market to furniture auctions, from flirtations to sexual assault, from undressing to cross dressing to the men sitting in a row putting on makeup, from fur coats stored in a fridge to a human fountain. The imagination wanders deliriously from entrance to entrance, each one setting up the expectation of a narrative that never quite fits with the previous one and brings time to a temporary halt. It’s an exquisitely judged choreographic rhythm to which the musical inputs by Matthias Burkert add a range of emotional highlights, from Russian symphonic music to New Orleans jazz to Italian folk songs.

Three hours may seem a long time, but in identifying the underlying nature of time and experience in these traces of her exploration — and those of her dancers who helped create the material — Bausch has synthesized them by condensing the time and experience into a theatrical setting. We are re-living those experiences in their reconvened form. Bausch was aware of the significance of the present moment as a tangible appearance on the surface of history, and in Viktor she has chosen rather to delve into that fertile ground of the past — underneath the streets — to portray what lies above. It is a miracle she accomplishes this in a mere three hours.

There is no doubt that death hangs over Viktor but there are also the luscious, smiling processions, the ensemble gestural dances and the rapturous swinging that are like shoots appearing above the ground after winter, and the bright colours and flowing design of Cito’s costumes on the elegant dancers are themselves a sign of radiance that punctuates the darker layers of Bausch’s vision. And she never fails to highlight the small absurdities of life that she presents on stage for our delight.

Bausch died nine years ago, so all her works the company has performed since then are, in a poignant yet real sense, memento mori — perhaps none more so, given its themes, than Viktor. It thus has a double resonance, reminding us of Bausch’s genius at transforming experience into a transcendent choreographic language of Tanztheater and of the indivisibility of life and death. We shall never again know what Bausch is thinking in the present, but only what was in her mind at the time of a particular work. Unlike a photograph that sets the past exactly as it appeared at the moment it was taken, a choreographic work can only be an approximation of what it was during the choreographer’s lifetime. For Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch we would seem to be on safe ground — some of the performers were in the original work — and although the level of performance is uneven in terms of experience, Viktor is shot through with conviction and colour to the extent we can see what the work must have been like from its creation in May 1986 up until Bausch’s death in June 2009.

Early on we learn that Viktor is itself a voice from the grave, a ghostly presence who through a woman’s lips in a man’s voice asks permission to remain for the performance insisting he is very quiet and closes the door when there is a draught. How tantalizing to imagine Bausch writing her spectral self into each performance.


Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Masurca Fogo

Posted: February 13th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Masurca Fogo

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Masurca Fogo, Sadler’s Wells, February 9

Ruth Amarante in Masurca Fogo (photo: Zerrin Aydin-Herwegh)

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.


Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, “…como el musguito en la piedra…”

Posted: February 17th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, “…como el musguito en la piedra…”

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, “…como el musguito…”, Sadler’s Wells, February 13

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in "...como el musguito..." (photo: Laurent Philippe)

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in “…como el musguito…” (photo: Laurent Philippe)

To judge…como el musguito en la pedra, ay, si, si, si… as the last work of Pina Bausch would be to take advantage of history. Bausch was not aware this was going to be her last work; she died on June 30, 2009, five days after being diagnosed with cancer and just 18 days after its première. “…como el musguito…” is a continuation of a series of works Bausch made in response to the culture of a particular city or country to which she and her company had been invited; this one is based on a visit to Chile. It is a happy, smiling work that touches on a joie de vivre that is lighter in tone than many of Bausch’s previous works. Peter Pabst’s conception of the stage as a large expanse of white floor curtained in black provides a vast, uncluttered space of light in which the vibrant colours of Marion Cito’s costumes for the women create a joyous vitality. The memories of Chile and its music seem to have suggested more tanz than theater; each of the sixteen members of the cast reveals him or herself through a solo though there are similarities between them, hints of gesture in boneless arms wrapping enigmatically around a liquid torso. The women’s long hair is integral to their dance, blurring and extending body lines in unimaginably sensual ways; Ditta Miranda Jasfi is the consummate example and her ebullience pops up undiminished throughout the work. This brightness and play is offset by symbolic reminders of the darker elements of Chile’s political past, through men chasing each other across the stage or hurtling around it, by the use of ropes for aerial escape as well as for restraint, and a rape scene where a women in white is passed roughly between seven men. But the underlying menace has an aesthetic overlay that plays shock on a minor scale. The result is a work that has all the visual elements of Bausch that run together a little too easily. I have never subscribed to the notion of a Bausch work being too long or needing editing; each is rich in detail that has been distilled within her imagination from a multitude of impressions and connections and extracted through the bodies and minds of her dancers. That is not a formula for conciseness and it is not the problem with “…como el musguito…”. The problem is a gradual but inevitable dilution of the work because that extraordinary imagination is no longer present.

Bausch famously stated in an interview with Jochen Schmidt that she was not interested in how people move but in what moves them. The unique reputation of her company rests not only on her choreographic and theatrical imagination but on the quality of the artists she has trained. She built up the stature of her dancers from the inside out so they could convey even the smallest gestures with the exaggerated clarity of thought and feeling. This is her legacy as much as the choreography she or her dancers produced, but it is a legacy that, unlike the steps, cannot be maintained in its entirety without her alchemic presence and guidance. This is both the strength and the weakness of Tanztheater Wuppertal: the genius who produced such great work also produced a company of artists dependent on her genius.

This evening’s cast of “…como el musguito…” is, with one exception, the original, so the dilution I sense in the work is not a question of new artists taking over others’ roles, though this is what is happening in the company for older productions in the repertoire. One of the strengths of the company — and what has allowed it to continue performing Bausch’s works — is that many dancers who worked closely with Bausch (there was evidently no other way to work) have remained in the company either as performers or as rehearsal directors. But however experienced, they are interpreters rather than the inspiration and interpreters need the constant probing and the gaze of the creator for their artistry to evolve.

Inevitably Bausch’s works will suffer further from the impossibility of maintaining their former brilliance and balance despite the fact that audiences will still want to see them and tours will remain financially viable. In a Financial Times podcast in 2012, at the time of the landmark Ten Cities project, Sadler’s Wells artistic director, Alistair Spalding, thought the company could survive in its present form ‘another 5 or 10 years’. Tanztheater Wuppertal has evidently been thinking along the same timeline. Next year, eight years after Bausch’s death, a new ‘intendant’ appointed from the outside, Adolphe Binder, will take over the reins of the company. Her unenviable but vital task will be to safeguard the integrity of Bausch’s performance legacy and to engage this extraordinary artist-led collaborative in new repertoire.


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.