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INTERVIEW: LUTZ FORSTER AND THE LEGACY OF PINA BAUSCH

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 24 SEPTEMBER 2015 — I spoke to Lutz Forster, director of the Pina Bausch Company since April 2013, shortly before a sensational performance of Nelken (*see below), an emblematic piece by Bausch created in 1982. Over a strawberry and raspberry sorbet in the sun, I asked Forster just how the troupe managed to restage her works, works which skipped lightly over the years,  as undated and fresh as if they were new creations by the German genius who died in 2009 but whose spirit is ever present.

"Perhaps the main reason that her creations have withstood the test of time is because they deal with fundamental issues which have never changed and which probably never will", he told me. "Pina talked about people in a very basic way, and what she said twenty, thirty or even forty years ago, is still true today. The problems one has to deal with are just the same. Also", he added, "her pieces are incredibly well constructed. She put an enormous amount of effort into them and we have an amazing body of her work to deal with which, on one hand makes it very easy for us, but on the other, gives us a tremendous amount of work to ensure we keep it alive. We possess over 40 pieces. As provocative and controversial as it was at the beginning, her creations are proving to be timeless and are attracting younger and younger audiences of people who were not even born when they were created. I feel very moved when I see people brandishing signs outside theatres, asking for seats to see us. It wasn’t always like that."


Lutz Forster in Pour les enfants
Choreography: Pina Bausch
Pina Bausch Company
Photo: © Alexandros Sarakisidisa

"We also have a great amount of documentation as everything was written down, full-length films were made and we have videos of almost every performance given during the last 30 years. There is also the collective memory with people like Dominique Mercy who has been with Pina since she founded the company in 1973 and who not only still dances, but is invaluable as a teacher. I met Pina the following year, when, after obtaining a University degree in French, Russian and history, I turned to dance, my first love, and began studying at the Folkwang Dance School in Essen. Pina, on the look-out for a dancer for her Rite of Spring, came to watch a demonstration there and pointed me out. "That one, she said. ‘I want the tall blond one with the big nose…. and nice second position". I joined her in 1975, and we had a very special and close relationship; I was never simply a performer as I was always interested in how things were made and in the pieces I danced.

"Several of us, "the oldies", were very much involved in the whole process, and so when I took over the troupe, different artists including Daphnis Kokkinos and Julie Shanahan as well as Dominique and myself, became responsible for specific works. People like Eddie Martinez and Julie Anne Stanzak have also been with the company for 20 to 30 years and we all share our expertise. Individual experience is handed down from person to person."

Forster also reminded me that he was surrounded by a remarkable team of designers, musicians and technicians who, like the dancers, had accumulated a mass of knowledge, sometimes perhaps too much;
"One can’t run a dance company as one would a democracy", he smiled. "I don’t give everyone a vote and there are frequently a lot of differing opinions as memory is a tricky thing and isn’t always objective. Then it’s up to me to decide."


Nelken
Choreography: Pina Bausch
Pina Bausch Company
Photo: © Oliver Looka

"After all the experience I gained in Wuppertal, I have to trust myself to take the right decision. I can’t ask, ‘What would Pina have done?’ With all those years at her side, I can only hope there’s something in me enabling me to achieve the right balance".

The one word which came up frequently in the conversation was work. Work and patience. Quoting Maria Callas, the German director said that at first, learning a new piece was like being in a straightjacket, but that once achieved, you could take on wings.

"It’s then that a phenomenon happens. After going through a piece, the work begins to actually talk to the dancers and the questions they wanted to ask at the beginning become useless. The piece itself answers them."

To the question about the future of the company and the prospective of opening up the repertoire to new works, Lutz Forster was highly cautious, agreeing only that a creative output was necessary. "As Pina used to say, ‘I don’t want to sell my fish before it’s caught’", he laughed. "The most I can tell you is that we have invited a guest choreographer, someone from outside the company, to create a new work for us next year. But it’s an experiment," he added hastily. "The dancers, all of us, need to work on something new and it’s good for the repertory too. Company members have worked on short pieces themselves, the first being set in the Elephant House at the Wuppertal Zoo! We chose unusual settings, the one the following year being in the canteen of a factory, while the most recent was set in a car park. They were fun pieces, each particular to the setting for which they were made, and consequently not suited to be shown elsewhere."


Pour les enfants
Choreography: Pina Bausch
Pina Bausch Company
Photo: © Alexandros Sarakisidisa

Established by her son, Salomon Bausch, after her death in 2009, the Pina Bausch Foundation has the task of carrying her artistic legacy into the future. In addition to the vast collection of archive material, including photographs and videos, the legacy includes the copyrights to all the stage and costume designs, and Forster concluded by speaking of the 2 million euros which has recently been raised for the planning of an "International Dance Centre Pina Bausch" which will accommodate both Tanztheater and archives.

However, he commented that transmitting works and ensuring the heritage of the company was a slow process, and what he hoped for was what Bausch used to call, a ‘fluid’ transmission". He also spoke of the great faith he had in the younger members, three of whom were hired last year and six this, making a total of 34 dancers in a company which included many artists of 40, 50 and 60. "We older dancers are transmitting the roles to a new generation, but even so, a work such as 1980 without Mechtild Grossman at its centre, will be very difficult to perform."

Nevertheless, with Lutz Forster at the helm, an actor/dancer/narrator who was an outstanding performer, and with the troupe continuing in the path of honesty, courage and rigour insisted upon by Pina Bausch, the company is looking good. It seems nothing short of a miracle that six years after her death, her works are being performed as if for the first time, the creator herself sitting in the wings, there for all the dancers to see.

*Nelken

Nelken, which is the German word for carnation, is one of Pina Bausch’s most visually spectacular works, a piece which opens with 3000 pink carnations carpeting the floor of the Chatelet stage, leaving an indelible image on the minds of all who saw it. Spectators reached out to touch them, while cameras and telephones clicked, immortalizing the vast field of flowers before the dancers arrived, in evening dress, stepping carefully over them. Walking on in silence and carrying chairs, they sat in a semi-circle before several jumped off the stage inviting members of the audience to leave the theatre. It was all highly theatrical.


Nelken
Choreography: Pina Bausch
Pina Bausch Company
Photo: © Oliver Looka

In the role immortalized by Lutz Forster, a young dancer, coached by the director himself,  came to the front of the stage, spelling out the words of Gershwin’s "The man I love, someday he’ll come" in sign language, to a vintage recording. It was both moving and poetic, and was followed by Julie Anne Stanzak, an accordion held close to her chest taking the place of a costume, strolling amongst the carnations in her high-heeled shoes.

Such was the beginning of Bausch’s version of a lost arcadia, the serene beauty being interrupted by an impassive official, the disturbing Andrey Berezin, demanding to see one’s passport, for the piece was written in 1982, seven years before the fall of the wall. Four Alsatian dogs prowled around the back and sides of the stage, adding to the feeling of distinct unease.

Dancers in satin dresses bobbed amongst the flowers such as rabbits, dancing on and under tables on their hands and feet. It was fascinating, as was the entrance of Fernando Suels Mendoza performing classical dance steps until he had no breath left… coached by Dominique Mercy in the role he created and immortalized in 1982.
 
The work was not only composed of disquieting sequences alternating with moments of serenity and humour, but also contained many innovative dance pieces, including that of the troupe moving chairs, sitting down, then standing up, always in unison, as mesmerizing as watching the dancers threading their way in single file across the stage, miming spring, summer, autumn and winter and getting the audience to join in too. It was one of those rare evenings which ended far too soon, for the performance was superb. These dedicated dancers, actors, acrobats and narrators deserved the standing ovation given them by an enthusiastic audience.  This was an evening of truly great dance/theatre.   

**Recent works brought to Paris include Two Cigarettes in the dark (1985), at the Palais Garnier last September and Palermo Palermo (1989), presented at the Theatre de la Ville the previous April. The company follow up the stay at the Chatelet with "For the children of yesterday, today, and tomorrow"( 2002), presented at the Theatre de la Ville, May 21 -30.
 

Pour les Enfants d’Hier, d’Aujourd’hui et de Demain

Several hours before the start of the last programme of Tanztheater Wuppertal, Pina Bausch, the sidewalk in front of the Theatre de la Ville was packed with people brandishing signs begging seats in an amphitheatre sold out months before. And with reason, for not only does this superb company go on from strength to strength as if its founder was always there, but also because Pour les Enfants d’Hier, d’Aujourd’hui et de Demain, created ten years after Nelken,  is a fun piece. Dancers hurtle across the stage on skateboards and scoot across on wheeled chairs alongside a whole series of remarkable solos. Contrary to many of Bausch’s works, where speech and sketches dominate, dance in this work has the lion’s share.


Pour les enfants
Choreography: Pina Bausch
Pina Bausch Company
Photo: © Alexandros Sarakisidisa

One of the most outstanding moments was watching Ditta Miranda Jasjfiin in an exquisite solo surely created just for her. In a soft white shift, with her long dark hair an integral part of the choreography, she mesmerized the audience by the beauty and purity of her dance, where each movement flowed into the next, before the charismatic Dominique Mercy erupted on stage in a solo full of force and energy. He was followed by other company members in solos different both in tempo and emotion, each reflecting the personality of the artist, while the image of seven couples dancing around the stage provided a moment of grace.

After Mercy, Lutz Forster also took part in the performance with a solo where the lower part of his body remained immobile, fascinating spectators with his quicksilver, fluid arm and hand movements, bewilderingly different from anything seen before.

However, nothing is as joyful as it might seem, as in true Bausch style there were the small, sly cruelties, the upsetting petty humiliations reflecting the everyday lives of all of us, Pina Bausch’s pieces being, as ever, about the joys and sorrows of one’s existence.


Pour les enfants
Choreography: Pina Bausch
Pina Bausch Company
Photo: © Alexandros Sarakisidisa

Movements were big and generous with many steps from classical ballet, the lighting subtly changing, and the doors and windows opening, moving and closing in on Peter Pabst’s grandiose, geometrical, all white décor.   All the innocence of childhood was there, from the exuberance of the games to the building of an intricate sandcastle contrasting with the adult world, with the sensuous beauty of the women in their long chiffon dresses.

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

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