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Istanbul in Paris: "Nefés" by Pina Bausch


By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 6 August 2004 - "That's me in the hammam!" shouts the bare-chested dancer, a large white towel wrapped around his midriff. Soapsuds drift in the air. A shapely oriental woman, draped in stuff of crimson approaches him, while the other women of the Tanztheater Wuppertal stand drying their hair, swinging it round, combing it out and slapping it round in the air. No long, lank and drooping locks here, but shining manes given choreography all of their own. Two bright-eyed girls sit at the front of the stage eating sweetmeats, honey drooling down their fingers, chins and arms.

Thus begins the first of a series of tableaux which compose Pina Bausch's extraordinary new work, which transports us to Istanbul, city of water, which the German choreographer discovered and adored in the summer of 2002. Gone are her graceless down-trodden women, and scenario where the heroines are Anger, Anguish and Despair .Gone too is the stifling psychological tension and meaningless violence in a world with no future which has tainted much of her work in the past.

Nefes by Pina Bausch
Nefés by Pina Bausch
Photo: Laurent Philippe

Nefés is a chef-d'oeuvre, where heart-ache there is, but alongside humour, hope and happiness. Above all, Bausch, who for the last ten years has been more concerned with ideas and feelings of frustration and emptiness, has allowed pure movement and the beauty of choreographic invention to colour her work. Not only is this Turkish inspired work a masterpiece of theatricality, where the stage covered in water becomes the Bosphoros before disappearing in front of our eyes, it is also a magnificent vehicle for the twenty dancers of the company. Solos and pas de deux, each more gripping than the one before, follow one after the other as each member of the company takes the front of the stage.

We know that sooner or later, a gigantic catastrophe will come; Istanbul is built on an earthquake line. There is the growing menace of the war in Iraq. And yet, maybe in spite of that Joy is there.

				 a piece by Pina Bausch
Tanztheater Wuppertal in Nefés by Pina Bausch
Photo: Laurent Philippe

At a press conference a few days before the performance, the choreographer spoke warmly of her attachment to the Turkish people, where the women were so beautiful and so strong. "Even my taxi driver told me all about his family, his school, the city, and the best places to go. The people there share their world with you", she said. "All the people who worked in the theatre with us became part of our family. Everyone was open, trusting, kind and helpful. I need to meet people and make friends, and when all the dancers there brought photographs of their families to show me, and the public did the same, it was a very special time."

In Nefes, Bausch has given back some of the beauty she received and in doing so she has created one of her finest works yet.

Pain is present, in the solitary man who expresses his grief, but is later surrounded by first one, then two, then eight smiling women at the end of his solo. A sense of fun prevails. In a pas de deux, where the brutality and excessive cruelty one has come to associate with Bausch is totally absent, the man and the woman touch and never lose contact and in a second pas de deux of even greater beauty, the dancers look at each other, never losing eye contact, searching for approval. The men lift the women, admire and protect them in a more classical representation of the couple.

Nefés by Pina Bausch
Nefés by Pina Bausch
Photo: Laurent Philippe

Rain starts falling, and more dancers arrive, swaying under the falling drops, while yet others appear, stomping joyously in the pool. A slender girl in a blue satin dress dances alone to the sound of a guitar, and more arrive, twisting, shuddering, shivering; each dancer tossing her mop of hair, blonde, dark, curling or straight, but moving and glossy, with a life of its own.

The women, with the lion's share of the choreography, dazzle and shine in their ravishing dresses; Bausch has allowed them to be beautiful. Guesting with the troupe, Indian dancer Shantala Shivalingappa, delicate and sensual stunned in a breathtaking solo, with her expressive face, butterfly movements, and undulating grace. The climax, of outstanding beauty, came at the end of the work, with the whole company coming on stage, one at a time, kneeling, turning and swirling, with their arms encircling the air. They resembled a Greek frieze.

The music throughout, always at the service of the choreography, was a clever mix of traditional Turkish tunes, classical guitar music, tangos from Astor Piazzolla, and songs of Tom Waitts, put together by Matthias Burkert and Andreas Eisenschneider with the collaboration of the Istanbul Oriental Ensemble. Not least were the amazing lighting effects of Peter Pabst, who, in addition to creating the illusion of the Bosphorus, enthralled the audience with each successive tableaux.

The entire work was a brilliant mixture of café theatre, humour, and inventive choreography. "I'm smiling without any reason; try it, it's not easy ", commented a dancer." But no one could try, for Bausch had given her audience too many reasons to rejoice.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for

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