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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 18 FEBRUARY 2015 — The disappearance of the founder/creator of a dance company too frequently leads to the disbanding or disintegration of the troupe and the dispersion of the dancers, but with Tanztheater Wuppertal, the company goes on from strength to strength. Under the joint directorship of Dominique Mercy and Robert Sturm from Bausch’s death in 2009 and taken over by Lutz Forster in 2013, the company opened the season at the Palais Garnier in September after they triumphed at the Theatre de la Ville in June with Palermo Palermo.They will present Nelken at the Theatre du Chatelet next May.

For the company’s third visit to the Palais Garnier, the dancers presented Two Cigarettes in the Dark, a work which took its name from a song by Bing Crosby on solitude and the loss of love, a choice not without risk, being more theatre/dance than the dance/theatre for which Bausch is famed and perhaps more suited to be shown at the Theatre de la Ville. Indeed, the work, created in 1985, is a series of sad, theatrical tableaux each coming from and leading into another, the linking theme being that of loneliness.

Pina Bausch: Two Cigarettes in the Dark
Tanztheater Wuppertal

A woman in high heels and evening dress runs out onto the empty, white, immense minimalist décor imagined by Peter Pabst. Behind her is a huge window stretching across the width of the stage giving onto a green tropical forest, whilst to her right is a giant-sized aquarium full of goldfish. She starts screaming. A man comes on, magnificent Dominique Mercy upon whom the weight of the piece revolves, elegantly attired in a sober three-piece suit. He knocks her violently on the head to shut her up, and upon that note, to a changing soundtrack of Monteverdi, Beethoven or Brahms, each fragment of music reflecting the changes in atmosphere, the piece begins, continues, and ends. "Come on in", invites the smiling, husky-voiced narrator, "my husband is at the war".

Pina Bausch: Two Cigarettes in the Dark
Tanztheater Wuppertal

People come and go, such as visitors to a museum. Life continues in the midst of chaos and derision, with Eddie Martinez, extraordinary, refined in his well-cut evening dress, standing on a tree-trunk, sipping his coffee to which he nonchalantly adds a lump of sugar, indifferent to the tragedy taking place behind him. A man, impassive, politely pours a glass of champagne for his companion but the champagne was subsequently slurped before being squirted out over his face while the friend simply let the liquid dribble down out of his mouth. More absurd, incongruous situations arise, the man slicing an orange in two with an axe, Mercy, elegant as ever, paddling in a cardboard box in centre stage, or capering round in his white underpants, taking a bath then a swim in the tank full of goldfish, before crossing the stage in his flippers, dripping wet and quasi naked, activities carried out with the greatest indifference.

Pina Bausch: Two Cigarettes in the Dark
Tanztheater Wuppertal

Yet the whole is not devoid of humour. There is the woman in the red swimsuit, who sidles onto the stage with a large, rectangular striped towel which she proceeds to gather together at each end, forming a hammock which she holds in the air with her feet, swinging herself backwards and forwards, the music changing into a smoochy tropical air. And what to make of the scenes with the skaters, a ripple of laughter coming from the audience at the arrival of the skaters, 6, 7, or 8 of them, dressed in bright pink and turquoise underpants, pirouetting and ‘skating’ round the stage in soft felt bootees!

However, one of the most stunning moments of the evening came with the angel, alias Julie Shanahan, sitting and moving, with Eddie Martinez fluttering his hands behind her shoulders, looking all the while as if she had wings. Was this a fairytale or a nightmare? For the couple strolling hand in hand in the tropical forest, but shot down in cold blood by a woman with a revolver, it was the latter.

Pina Bausch: Two Cigarettes in the Dark
Tanztheater Wuppertal

In Two Cigarettes in the Dark, the women are all racked by sadness. They are carried on and off stage, beaten up, dumped, got rid of like so much vermin. And why, for example, did this woman smile yet burn holes in her dress with a cigarette and the man tie himself up to a chair? Did they both despise themselves so much?

But then, as so often with Pina Bausch, there is hope, if not joy. The light comes back, and swinging to the rhythm of "Two Cigarettes in the Dark", interpreted by Alberta Hunter, all 10 dancers/interpreters of the piece, in evening dress, come forward, smiles on their faces and arms outstretched in a warm farewell to the audience, dissipating tension, leaving only a sentiment of admiration for this exceptional troupe of dancers, several of whom have worked by the side of Bausch since the creation of the company. Ironically, one had to wait for over two hours for Pina Bausch’s inimitable dance choreography to complete the evening. 

Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for CulturekiosqueShe last wrote on the Nederlans Dans Theater.

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