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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 17 DECEMBER 2014 — The curtain at the Theatre de la Ville in Paris rises on a solid-looking wall, a "real" wall made of breeze blocks which barricades two thirds of the stage, and seconds later, wham! The whole structure, an idea devised by Bausch’s audacious designer Peter Pabst, topples dramatically backwards, hurtling red dust and grit into the air and into the audience, leaving the ground strewn with uneven piles of rubble, rocks and dirt.

Just as her 1986 work was influenced by a stay of three weeks in Rome, Palermo Palermo is the result of time spent in Sicily, but any idea that Bausch has romanticised the city dominated by Etna, the concrete network of roads criss-crossing the island and the Mafia, can be swept away as the work, absurd and derisive, unfolds on this rubbish covered stage with events connected by the ridiculous and an atmosphere of impending tragedy. But, as is often the case with Bausch’s work, one has only to scratch the surface to perceive an underlying humour and the clear note of life, hope and optimism at the close.

Tanztheater Wuppertal in Palermo Palermo
Choreography: Pina Bausch

The piece continued with the Australian dancer, Julie Shanahan, tracing a cross on the floor, a cross on her face, before screaming out to have mud and gunge thrown all over her face , hair and body. She wants to be hugged, she wants to be kissed, she wants to be loved. The women totter over the rubble in their long dresses and impossibly high stiletto heels going nowhere, a man has a shave with the microphone, eggs and then meat are cooked on a steam iron, a dancer takes off his black sock which has a hole in it, paints his heel black, and puts back the sock, grinning at the audience in sly self-satisfaction. That knowing smirk of his has long become one of Bausch’s trademarks.

Actions follow, each more fanciful than the rest, with the man who puts his broken arm in a bag and with the woman who tries to iron the dress she’s wearing, but is disturbed by someone tipping a satchel of gold coins over her.

But the biggest titters from the audience came from the antics of a nice little dog who trotted nonchalantly around the stage, impervious to the audience before finding his picnic dinner which was gobbled up very politely; having hurt his back leg in rehearsals once, he was doubly careful when clambering up the remains of the wall with his short furry legs, making several abortive attempts before succeeding. "He’s not been trained at all", his owner, the dancer Jean-Laurent Sasportes, told me at the cocktail party afterwards, where the small animal was happily meandering around among the guests, thoroughly at ease; "Each time we perform, he loves going on stage, and always does something different as did his predecessor, Achuya, who became a member of the cast quite by accident!"

Tanztheater Wuppertal in Palermo Palermo
Choreography: Pina Bausch

However, when Dance makes its apparition, it is like dance one has never seen before. A series of solos begin, and the diversity and speed of the movements are mesmerizing. Bausch finds angles and arm movements not seen before that leave the spectator breathless and when two or three people were dancing at the same time, one needed several pairs of eyes, but she also found a way to turn such beauty into derision by having Andrey Berezin dressed as a drag queen, twirl a pet snake in the air ( a plastic one, which was not totally obvious), and  mince along the front of the stage with that Bausch walk, all the while harbouring that sly, knowing grin.

That Bausch is a master choreographer touching on genius has been said time and again, but what is less often pointed out is that in the chaos she presents there is always hope. In the last scene, trees in blossom descend. From the sterile cement and rubble, life reappears, beauty from anarchy.

The score was an amalgamation of music from Southern Italy, Sicily, Africa, China, Japan and Scotland as well as excerpts from Paganini, Grieg and Tchaikovsky, including American blues and jazz, arranged by Matthias Burkitt

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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