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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 1 JULY 2016 — Two works created by Pina Bausch, Agua and Auf dem Gebirge hat man ein Geschrei gehort, (On the mountain a cry was heard) were shown in Paris in May, at the Theatre de la Ville and the Chatelet, respectively. No two pieces could have been more different. The only common factor between them was the passion and commitment with which they were performed, for since the death of Bausch in 2009, the company has gone from strength to strength. Instead of quietly folding down, the troupe, led by people devoted to Bausch who had worked with her from the very early years, plus astute choices of new, younger dancers, is successfully restaging pieces from a vast and varied  repertoire of 46 works, works which remain as fresh and timeless as on the day they were created.

Agua, which blazed onstage at the Theatre de la Ville, is the result of the company’s creative residency in Sao Paulo in 2001. It is one of Bausch’s most optimistic and luminous pieces, saturated with the colours, sounds and culture of Brazil. She so associated Brazil with dance that Agua, one of her most danced works as opposed to her more theatrical pieces, is composed of a stunning succession of solos, duos, trios and exuberant ensembles, each more exciting and original than the precedent.

It opens with an attractive woman in a slinky golden gown coming to the forefront of the stage while greedily eating and sucking an orange, the juice running down her chin, the fruit seeming to fill the auditorium with its pungent smell. She’s on a beach, surrounded by giant-sized palm trees waving in the breeze. Her mouth full of juice, she tells the audience how wonderful the starlit sky was when she awoke in the night, but then added, in Bausch’s inimitable fashion, "I thought, thank goodness I had that cramp!" Message received; even in paradise, in the midst of joy and beauty, there is still suffering.

Choreography: Pina Bausch
Tanztheater Wuppertal
Photo: Olivier Look

But there was little one could call distress in the two hours of pure, intense dance which followed, always against a gorgeous video by that unsung genius, Peter Pabst. From the first changing shots of swaying palm trees projected onto curved screens encircling the stage, images of nature in all its glory burst forth. Deep rainforests, flying flamingoes in a brilliant sky, mysterious jungles featuring jaguars and orangutans, and wooden rafts on choppy seas, where each grain of wood and splashes from the crystalline waters were projected onto the floor, culminated in magnificent views of the thundering Iguazu Falls, spectacular images and ideas which are not without influencing stage designers of today.

Gone are Bausch’s down-trodden women in a world where sophisticated beauties in glamorous gowns sip cocktails and where men, for the most part, are mere accessories. It’s a tropical paradise where the sun always shines. Fun sequences abound including a further beach scene on a semi-circle of white sofas, where the dancers amuse themselves as well as their audience by parading around holding up towels imprinted with suggestive, tantalizing cartoon characters in front of their semi-naked bodies, making fun of a beach parade. It’s fun, it’s playful, and it’s most enjoyable.

Choreography: Pina Bausch
Tanztheater Wuppertal
Photo: Olivier Look

The company members dance with every bit of their body, filling the stage with their vibrant personalities, their slender, graceful arms, hands fluttering around their faces, their wrists undulating. The women’s hair, long, lustrous, and cascading down or blowing in the wind, forms an integral part of the choreography.

If one has to single out just one of the dancers, then it has to be the extremely feminine Julie Shanahan with her worrisome neuroses, who intervenes from time to time with caustic comments full of charm. She is given an incredible solo, elegant, sensuous and sexy, with just a touch of melancholy.

Bausch’s choreography, brimming with moments of pure poetry conveys all the warmth, joy, and sensuality of Brazil and the audience leaves happy, ready to face the outside world, and humming some of those sunny Brazilian rhythms that made up the rich accompanying score.

The same cannot be said of Auf dem Gebirge hat man ein Geschrei gehort, one of Bausch’s most disturbing pieces, where more than one spectator left the theatre feeling nauseous. Created 17 years earlier, in 1984, it is a production stressing anguish, frustration and cruelty. Following on in the German expressionist dance tradition, the first part was aggressive dance-theatre, without dance. It was also without a single optimistic thought for the future leading one to question as to what was going on in Bausch’s head at the time.

The work opens, not with a stage covered in pink carnations as in Nelken at the same theatre last year, but with a stage covered in dark, dirty mud over which a thick fog hangs, partially obscuring panic-stricken figures in black who first sidle across the back of the stage before running frenziedly round the auditorium. Fleeing from what? The sensation of fear which dominates the work is there from the beginning, an atmosphere intensified by the apparition of a horrible figure. Michael Strecker, huge, cold and impassive in skimpy pink underpants and matching hat and goggles, blows up balloon after balloon until they burst. There’s no music, only the noise of stampeding feet and harsh breathing, followed by people struggling, fighting, rolling round the floor, before a loud but rasping score starts up.

Auf dem Gebirge hat man ein Geschrei gehort
Choreography: Pina Bausch
Tanztheater Wuppertal
Photo: Olivier Look

One has walked into a nightmare world, a world of twisted brutality where women are tortured, beaten and humiliated. Why does this woman let the domineering man repeatedly draw blood on her back? Why does another incessantly slap her own face, and why are two reluctant people violently forced into intimacy by a horde of wild ruffians? Reality is mingled with flashes of the absurd, but this time, Bausch’s incongruities are not amusing.
However, Bausch’s astonishing choreographic genius resurfaced with several moments of surprising beauty in the second part of the work. There was an all too brief pas de deux between Azusa Seyama and Rainer Behr, both superb dancers, with some extraordinary graceful and acrobatic jumps from Behr, bringing to mind Roland Petit’s choreography for Baryshnikov in his 1978 Dame de Pique. He leaped into the air, landing in a ‘fish-dive’ on his hands, a movement repeated some 6 or 7 times. There was a moving and mesmerizing "soft-shoe shuttle" between Dominique Mercy and his blind companion, Andrey Berezin, while one of the most spectacular scenes came from a group of elderly musicians who emerged out of the smoke on stage to form a brass band accompanying a young woman in a dreamlike sequence where she was carried high in the air across the stage by four men, as if riding on a carousel without end.

Whilst not denying the ferocious strength, intensity and theatrical dimensions of the piece, enhanced by Pabst’s dramatic scenery, the brief moments of respite did not obliterate the fact that in the choreographer’s vicious denunciation of a brutal outside world, women are degraded. They are thrown about, roughed up either unresisting or screaming and clawing and submit to a crazed man who repeatedly threatens to kill and rape them. Collective fear remains at the heart of this tortured, sombre creation as it ends on the same frenzied battleground seen earlier in the piece.

One can only praise the interpretation of this exceptional company who appeared utterly exhausted at the end and probably grateful that Bausch turned her attention away from Germany’s troubled past and the industrial city of Wuppertal to concentrate on more positive works set in other countries where the sun shines including Portugal, Spain, Turkey, Chile, Hungary, Italy, and Brazil, the setting of the carefree Agua, where tomorrow is another day.

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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