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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 25 JULY 2011 — Before seeing a performance of Pina Bausch’s last work it was difficult not to think of it as a sort of testament, the German choreographer having died just days after ….como el musiguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si  was premiered in Wuppertal in June, two years ago. Yet just minutes after the piece began, the explosion of vitality, colour, and choreographic inventiveness combined with the energy and joy of dancing emanating from her interpreters swept away all misplaced nostalgia. Here was a sumptuous production packed with surprises, laughter, smiles and heart-rending tragedy.

The work, inspired by a song by Violeta Parra, was the result of the company’s two week stay in Chile in 2008 on what was to be her last journey, when Bausch and her dancers explored the country, from the dried out deserts of the North to the lush grasslands of the South. They even discovered the warmth, noise and aggressiveness of the Vega Centrale, Santiago’s largest market. But they also made a halt at the Villa Grimaldi where Pinochet’s army imprisoned and tortured thousands of people in the 1970’s.

Pina Bausch: ..como el musguito en la piedra ay si, si, si
Photo: © Anja Beutler

Marked by the atmosphere she felt there, Bausch opens her last work with a young girl screaming, being chased and then tortured by two assailants. More men arrive, and she is raped, on all fours, her long dark hair caressing the ground. The music is incessant, repetitive, but there is no decor as such.  Peter Pabst has created an off-white floor, crisscrossed over with fissures, which open to disclose gaping crevices, and then close up again as the work moves along. The German choreographer has made visible what she experienced emotionally, and so shades of Neruda and poetry alternate with evocations of Pinochet and his fierce repression in a work of amazing originality.

Scenes full of malicious humour, where members of the audience are offered pieces of fruit or where a woman in high-heeled shoes complacently applies her mascara and lipstick all the while sublimely ignoring the bottle of water being poured over her head, are interspersed with images of prisoners escaping on ropes or helpless blind-folded captives. A woman, her arms fluttering above her head in vain, strains to break free of the leash around her waist.  But when dance as we know it starts, it is beautiful, exquisitely so.

Women in long, fluid, off-the shoulder evening gowns sway in slow, languorous solos which give place to pas de deux which remain almost stationary, the man putting his head through the circle made by the woman’s arms, and moving unhurriedly there, where she is not. And, as so often happens in Bausch’s work, the women’s hair, left long and shining, forms an integral part of her choreography.

Ditta Miranda Jasjfi in ...como el musguito en la piedra ay si, si, si
Choreography: Pina Bausch
Photo: © Ursula Kaufmann

Dominique Mercy, the dancer who has worked alongside Bausch since the company was formed, and who now co-directs the troupe with Robert Sturm, commands the stage in a solo full of quiet charm. He never repeats a single gesture. A highlight of the work is when, with effortless grace, he leads a ‘caterpillar’ of dancers sitting on the floor, one behind the other, each running their fingers through the other’s hair. It was so simple yet so effective.

And in spite of or even because of the hate within this work, it is full of love and joy. The women, sensuous and irresistible, spread wide their skirts in round, circular movements to catch the shuttlecocks, a girl in her sleep slithers backwards across the floor, arcing her back such as a giant worm. Pina Bausch’s last creation is one of memories, of mankind’s hopes and fears, a fresco of what it means to be human and to be alive. Her dancers, both those who have accompanied her across the years as well as the new arrivals, intend that it should stay that way.

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 death and legacy of French choreographer Roland Petit

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