The Pina Bausch blog
Ricky Power Sayeed is watching every work in this summer's mammoth ten-show Pina Bausch season. That's 29 hours of radical German dance theatre over four weeks. Read on to find out how he's getting on…
June 7, Sadler's Wells
'Viktor' was the obvious choice to kick off the World Cities season, a month of works by the late and legendary avant garde choreographer Pina Bausch. First staged in 1986, it's the oldest of this set of works, which were all inspired by foreign residencies taken by Bausch and her company.
However, I have a hunch that's not the only reason they started with 'Viktor'. Pina devised this piece after visiting Rome, and it showcases everything that's best about her work. The beginning of the night presents a quick succession of stark images, from an armless woman to a robotic wedding; from a woman rolled up in a rug to every man around fumbling with the cleavage of dancer Aida Vainieri. These first ten minutes are like a fast-forwarded Pina Bausch piece, full of misogyny, violence and lots of little laughs.
Maybe that easiness isn't a totally good thing, because 'Viktor' is not quite as challenging as some of the Bausch's works. There are devastatingly sad moments, like a brutal dance that suggests the performers, slumped across the floor like the undead, are hanging themselves and slitting their wrists. There are gorgeously fun images, my favourite being two women in ball gowns swinging up and down the stage on gymnastic rings. And there are the incredible designs. Peter Pabst houses the night's events in an archeological dig that is gradually filled with earth.
But there's not much of the aggressive audience-baiting that made Bausch great. There are only hints of it: raising the house lights just as the stage is filling up with a manic chaos of contraptions and games, or that woman who screams at us to stop following her. Other than that, we we're being eased in gently. This was great, but the best is surely yet to come.
June 10, Barbican
'Nur Du/Only You'
'When I have a shower I think of Hitchcock - but I take a shower anyway.' With that deceptively silly line, dancer Julie Shanahan unravels the themes woven into Pina Bausch's 1996 piece 'Nur Du' ('Only You'), which was inspired by a residency that Bausch took in L.A. Like Janet Leigh under the faucet, watched over by Bates, the cast's bodies ooze sex, violence, money and Hollywood as they dance themselves into the ground.
'Nur Du' is actually very funny, a highlight being Dominique Mercy's Groucho Marx-style stand-up in drag. But beneath these jokes is a highly political performance, ridiculing the American dream. An arrogant landowner strides around, chucking rubbish for a lacky with a bin. A plastic surgeon traces a middle-aged dancer's naked breasts with his marker pen, but the lines connect to create the picture of a pair of spectacles. Women and their bodies are always being watched.
Some of the night's choreographed pieces felt secondary and forgotten, but the night ended with a spectacular solo by Mercy, who's been with the company since the beginning and is its co-artistic director. His 60-something body dragged out the dance of an immigrant labourer, flailing with exhaustion. Angry, bold and devastating, it was the best thing I've seen this year.
June 12, Sadler's Wells
'Como el musguito en la piedra'
'Como el musguito en la piedra' ('Like moss on a stone'), the late Pina Bausch's final work is calm, beautiful and maybe a little predictable.
Over the evening, Tanztheater Wuppertal treats us to a series of consummate solo performances. Clémentine Deluy shudders around in her red satin dress with frightening intensity; Pablo Aran Gimeno wheels and snaps beguilingly. The audience loved it, rising to their feet at the end of the evening in greater numbers than on any night so far this season. Earlier, Deluy had encouraged us to 'enjoy the moment', but did so while plodding through purposefully boring dance steps. In her work, Bausch was insisting that art is not just about enjoyment, but with all those lovely solos, she's trying to have it both ways.
The clean white surface of Peter Pabst's stage cracks into icebergs, the depths of which we cannot see. The bleak truths underlying gorgeous choreography are less visible here than in Bausch's other work and I left feeling short-changed, but what we do get is extraordinary. Repeatedly we see a man and woman run into an embrace, only to be torn apart. And when the lights go down on Pina Bausch's last piece, we are left with a stark image that crystalises her life's work: a woman on all fours, abandoned by her lover.
June 15, Barbican
Although the World Cities season claims to represent a rich mix of cultures matching London's Olympic diversity, the shows so far have not laid much emphasis on the places that inspired them. 'Ten Chi' is more explicit. With cherry blossom falling and martial arts slapstick, we know we're in Japan. Helena Pikon's aggressively polite tour guide tickled the audience, but we also laughed at the preposterous stereotypes listed by cult German actress Mechthild Grossmann, who MCs Ten Chi with her deep, gravelly voice. From bonsai to samurai, she was sensitively reminding us of the silliness behind our own stereotypes.
A late-period Bausch piece, 'Ten Chi' is full of sumptuous choreography. Pikon's solo was careful and elegant, but there was something impressively practical about her movements. She always seemed to be making something, carrying out a duty or performing a ritual. Ditta Miranda Jasjfi's dances, which top both halves of the night, are dainty but tough, and her small frame throws her arms through abstract flowing movements with an intimidating rigor. The night ends with a long series of solos that crackle with an energy befitting a bustling economic powerhouse. The lights slowly fade on Azusa Seyama's manic contortions - it's a bold and arresting conclusion, but we're only halfway through the season.
June 19, Sadler's Wells
We've reached the halfway point! Five shows into the season and it's time to hear from the audience. Here's what they thought of Bausch's Hong Kong-inspired 'Der Fensterputzer'.
The veteran 'Normally I'm gripped by Pina Bausch's performances but this one was a little mechanical. I couldn't just sit back and feel the piece.'
The designer 'I loved that dress Nazareth Panadero was wearing. She was strutting around with her arms out and her shoulders up like an awkward little bird learning to walk. She's hilarious!'
The critic 'For me, it was about how men so often don't understand what women want. Like that bit where the women are playing so innocently with the duvets and the men stride in and start doing these very erotic hip movements.'
The Pina Bausch virgin 'I didn't want to assume the mountain of flowers at the back of the stage had some deep symbolic meaning. But when a man dug a snake out of it, it seemed like it had all these obvious connotations. Maybe it's not just one message. It's observations, and we can judge a bit too.'