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PINA BAUSCH: LOCK, STOCK AND BARREL

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 9 MARCH 2009 - After thirty years of appearances in Paris each summer, the Théâtre de la Ville has now become a second home to Pina Bausch and her company. From their early days there when a production, often regarded as a provocation rather than dance theatre, was performed only on two or three evenings, the troupe recently moved in lock, stock and barrel for almost the entire month of January. It is also becoming increasingly difficult to find a ticket for one of the programmes on offer and the number of people begging for seats outside the theatre keeps growing.

This year the public had the opportunity to see not only her latest work, Sweet Mambo, premiered at Wuppertal in May last year, but also her joyful Wiesenland, a piece created after a visit to Budapest in 2000 and supposedly based on the images and impressions received there. Gone is the anguish, stress and frustration which marked so many of her earlier productions. Wiesenland may well be spiked through with symbols, from water representing purity and smoke illustrating sin, while the troubling relationships between men and women remain paramount, but frankly, who cared what it was about if not life! The emotion came from the movement, from the dancers' energy and vitality and from the humour running through the work. And, taking cue from the banks of the river Danube, the theme of water, in bottles, buckets and basins was dominant. These were moments to be seen and enjoyed, a mish-mash of crazy events crammed through and through with glorious dance. For as well as being one of the most influential avant-garde choreographers working in Europe, Bausch is also a genius of movement and theatrical invention.


Pina Bausch: Wiesenland
Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal
Photo: Laurent Philippe

Was there a theme in Wiesenland? The closest it came to its title, the green earth, was in the imposing décor by Peter Pabst, a gigantic piece of mountain side, covered in green moss, rocks and crevices, with cascades of water rushing down.

As the stage flooded with light and soft music played, a smiling girl in a long evening dress carried a candlelit tray around, offering tea to the audience. True, she got a bucket of water poured over her head for her pains, but then the rest of the women came on, for the most part in high-heeled shoes, full-length dresses in pastel shades of satin and gloved hands, each more feminine than the next, their long hair streaming down, flattering and accentuating their movements. Under the admiring eyes of a handsome youth, a girl in an off-white, clinging satin dress climbed up a ladder to somewhere, and a fast moving "fakir" appeared from thin air, and scuttled across the stage to sit cross-legged to cook himself dinner on a small granite stove. Elsewhere, a girl on a chair was lifted high in the air by four strong young men.

In the midst of all this, a fancily dressed couple on their way to a ball crossed the stage… pushing a supermarket trolley. The message was clear; there was no message. No story and no meaning apart from an eternal need for love in a world filled with chaos.


Pina Bausch: Wiesenland
Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal
Photo: Laurent Philippe

No dance as yet and no evident connection to the Hungarian capital. There was just a strange and meaningless mess which continued with couples quarrelling, people eating solitary meals and generally walking on and off stage to no purpose. Nothing had any rhyme or reason, until Dance arrived with a vengeance.

Within seconds, loud music blared out, and the whole company were twirling, dipping and bobbing, the women lifted way up high by the men, before one broke away to perform a brilliantly inventive solo, one of a whole series of many. The stage was brimming with life, large and generous and full of colour.

The music ebbed away, to be replaced by a woman humming, followed by softly whispered words accompanying the soft, lovely solos. At one given moment, some six or seven women raised their full skirts in half-circles, spinning around as cartwheels.

Two dancers weaved their way gracefully between an increasing pile of 10, 11 or maybe 12 chairs balanced precariously one on top of another, chairs reaching to the sky, and lifting the whole work into a poetic, luminous sphere of its own; The male dancers came on one at a time, each dancing steps more inventive than the next.

Dominique Mercy, Pina Bausch's charismatic interpreter, who has worked with her since the company was founded, was stupendous, creating that special, fascinating aura of Bausch magic around him as he moved. His entire body took possession of the stage in an breathe-stopping solo where each movement was different, delicate, no sequence of steps being ever repeated. A highly expressive artist, air-borne, he moved with grace, lightness and charm, leaving a silent audience choked with emotion.

Wiesenland is a work where the choreography is for individuals; there was little, if any group dancing at all, for when there were more than three dancers on stage, the action turned towards slapstick or derision. Towards the end, it was difficult to know where to turn one's eyes, on a spectacular solo of pure invention, on an attractive woman in a green off-the-shoulder evening dress who was miming fun conversations with responsive members of the audience, horrified to discover one spectator was there alone, or on a near-naked duo taking a bath in a tub that was too small for them. By the time I noticed them, they were taking a shower under a watering can precariously balanced on top of a chair. Apparently, we learned afterwards, they were totally naked, but the action elsewhere was so mesmerizing that no one in the audience noticed until it was too late to verify!

Musical collaboration: Matthias Burkert and Andreas Eisenschneider

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. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.com

Title image: Pina Bausch: Wiesenland
Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal
Photo: Laurent Philippe

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