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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 26 JUNE 2012 — "Our priority is to continue to present the works of Pina Bausch with a mix of old and new interpreters", said Dominique Mercy, the dancer who joined Bausch back in 1973, when she founded her company, and who has co-directed Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch since the German choreographer's death two years ago. "Together with Robert Sturm, who directs the company with me, we intend to respect her wishes and ensure that the company  grows and develops while keeping her works alive, he continued.

We were chatting informally over a glass of freshly squeezed lemon juice in the little French brasserie next to the Theatre de la Ville in Paris where the troupe was performing 1980 Une piéce de Pina Bausch, an abstract work created shortly after the untimely death of her companion and set designer, Rolf Borzik, the same year.

Tanztheater Wuppertal in Pina Bausch's 1980 — Une piéce de Pina Bausch
Photo: © Ulli Weiss

I questioned the easy-going Mercy, one of the best loved people on the European dance scene, as to why they had chosen this particular piece to bring to Paris, a work full of melancholy, and less a danced creation than a revue set to a musical score as varied as the sketches presented. It is a mosaic of fragments and ideas, much being based on nostalgia and full of unshed tears despite the irrepressible moments of laughter and forced gaiety.

"It's a magnificent creation which shows and celebrates life in spite of the underlying sadness", French-born Dominique  Mercy replied. "It marks a turning-point in Pina's work and is concerned with loss, the loss of chilhood souvenirs, and with loneliness and the impossibility of communication.  It also constitutes an important part of the company's history. It presented a challenge to us with the wide age range of interpreters, mingling four of those who created the work 32 years ago with younger dancers, several of whom never even worked with her.

"Being conceived as a tribute to Borzik, it brought much in continuity and in the transmission of the repertoire", he added, " and it marks the beginning of the remarkable collaboration between Pina and Peter Pabst. By creating an immense meadow of fresh grass, which was  actually growing on soil at the time and had both to be watered and mowed, Pabst was continuing Borzik's ideas of associating scenery to nature and the elements, to earth, water, sand and rocks. When the work opens, the audience is confronted not only with the vision of grass, but the scent of it, and then it does affect the work as the dancers' feet make no sound."

"What was fascinating with Pina", he continued, "was that she was always a spectator; she was never a person with concepts. She shows life. When movement wasn't enough she turned to words and vice versa. 1980 is about dance," he insisted, "which is present in unexpected forms, other intentions and even in immobility, being less physical than one would expect. It's another way of being on stage."

Curiously, in 1980 which is over three and a half hours long, the audience had to wait over three hours to see any sequence of collective dance as they recognised it. Before, there was just one woman dancing alone at the back of the stage, hard to spot, hidden as she was behind the rest of the company. And from time to time, there was a glorious,  snake-like procession of company members, shuffling one behind the other using rapid, poetic hand movements who frequently mingled with the audience.

Tanztheater Wuppertal in Pina Bausch's 1980 — Une piéce de Pina Bausch
Photo: © Ulli Weiss

Julie Anne Stanzak and Lutz Forster also enjoyed mingling with the audience, graciously offering cups of hot tea around, which they served with milk and sugar, a ploy that Bausch subsequently developed in later productions.

"Nothing in the work was either improvisation or experimentation", Dominique Mercy said." Everything was there for a reason, and if certain themes were picked up later, it was just by chance, for Pina was constantly searching for other ways of existing on stage. Things were staged  in another way and no attempt was made to explain the inexplicable. She realised early on that there were many ways of interpreting her works besides her own and  that of the dancers, for each spectator brought their own feelings and experiences in response to what they saw. Pina refused to impose her own vision on an audience which was the reason she was so reluctant to talk about her work.

"It's strange, but everything in 1980, whether it was eating porridge or entertaining the audience with impossible tongue twisters in a language the artists didn't speak, had to do with chemistry; things just happened the way they did.  During the period of creation, she would ask us for questions not solutions.

"At the beginning she gave us the material but as time passed, ideas were shared. She would give us suggestions to use as we wished, after which she asked for movements of our own. Then she wouldn't give us anything anymore, but asked us questions to which we had to reply by movement. She'd video everything and then each of us would go to her in turn to watch the film and choose some sequence which she would then comment on, telling us what was not worth keeping, encouraging us to continue with movements she found beautiful. Pina was the guiding hand behind everything we did, sifting through, modifying  and joining our ideas with those of her own to create something new and exciting.

Music, which was never used as a support, was always added after. Mercy explained that Bausch would only look for suitable music after the choreography was completed, recollecting that in all the years in which they worked together, Bausch had only given him music beforehand twice.

"When a solo was completed, it would be shown to Matthias Burkert and Andreas Eisenschneider  who would put in a tremendous amount of research for scores to fit each sequence. They would bring in musical suggestions which sometimes worked, and sometimes didn't"

Tanztheater Wuppertal in Pina Bausch's 1980 — Une piéce de Pina Bausch
Photo: © Ulli Weiss

"Happily everything was always filmed, so we are able to recreate her works as faithfully as possible. We have a lot of video material as well as written notations as everyone would mark down their roles in books which constitues a precious record. There's a collective memory, so when we stage a work, it is as close as is possible to the original and when new interpreters take over roles, they don't change the interpretation beyond reason. "Some of us are getting on now", adding with a rueful smile that the company's ages ranged from 23 to himself, now 62.

Needless to say, it is with the range in ages as well as in their international background that the company has grown to be as special as they are. The dancers' roots lie not only in Germany and France, but from countries including  the United States, Australia, Greece, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Japan. Artists who have left are regularly invited back to interpret roles they created, and as the troupe possesses a repertoire of twenty to thirty creations, the future holds no immediate problems.

"We're peacefully considering the best direction to take", Mercy said. "We're well aware of the importance to renew the repertoire with creations, but it's not our priority just yet. There are pieces that Pina herself dropped, and works such as Orpheus and Eurydice* which, in view of the enormous cast necessary are difficult for us to stage." It will be staged by the Paris Opéra Ballet in New York this summer, a fact which pleases us all immensely."

And then, 10 of the co-productions**which were created at the invitation of certain cities including Rome, Istanbul , Budapest, los Angeles, Santiago, Palermo, Hong Kong, and two cities in Brazil,  are going to be shown at Sadlers Wells and the Barbican Centre from 6 June to 9 July 2012 as part of the Olympic celebrations.

Each one of these works, which Mercy assured me were relatively easy to stage, were created after a residency of approximately three weeks in a different city between 1986 and 2009, the year Bausch died.

And as far as Mercy is concerned, he will dance most of the roles he was given as long as he is able, although, breaking into waves of laughter, he commented that it was not always easy! Already he has given away two of his roles, but one can truly hope he will continue to illumine Pina Bausch's works with his extraordinary presence alongside his artistic and administrative responsibilities.  


*Orpheus and Eurydice will be presented by Paris Opera Ballet at the Lincoln Center Festival in New York on 20 - 22 July 2012.

** Viktor, Nur Du, Wiesenland, Como el musguido en la piedra, ay si, si, si,, Nefès, Bamboo Blues, The Window Washer, and Agua will be amongst the works presented in London.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque. She last wrote on the choreographers Jerome Robbins and Mats Ek.

Related Culturekiosque Archives

Pina Bausch Braves the Underworld

Review: The Last Testament of Pina Bausch

The Death of Pina Bausch 1940 - 2009

Pina Bausch: Lock, Stock and Barrel

Pina Bausch Agrees to Film of Orpheus and Eurydice

Interview: Working With Pina Bausch

Pina Bausch's Orpheus Charms the Underworld of the Paris Opera Ballet

Istanbul in Paris: "Nefès" by Pina Bausch

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