Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in Bon Voyage, Bob… at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: February 24th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in Bon Voyage, Bob… at Sadler’s Wells

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Bon Voyage, Bob…, Sadler’s Wells, February 22

Au Revoir, Bob...
Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in Au Revoir, Bob… (photo: Mats Bäcker)

The two full-length works created last year on Pina Bausch’s company by choreographers Dimitris Papaioannou and Alan Lucien Øyen and presented recently at Sadler’s Wells mark a watershed in the company’s post-Bausch existence. Bausch died in June 2009 and while both the current works deal with her death they do so in inverse ways. In Since She Papaioannou creates a memorial to Bausch in which his half of the company (each choreographer has a cast of sixteen dancers) is working with him from the outside looking in. By contrast in Bon Voyage, Bob… Øyen has created a memorial in which his half of the company is still very much on the inside looking out. There is a clear sense that ten years after her sudden disappearance Papaioannou and Øyen have each allowed the company to publicly commemorate Bausch in works she has not authored, but their respective creative approach suggests that closure for the entire company has not yet been realised.

Øyen accepted without hesitation the invitation to choreograph a new piece for the company as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He knew Bausch’s work mostly through videos, and had only seen the company perform seven years after the choreographer’s death but, as Sarah Crompton observes in the program, his creative approach turned out to be close to Bausch’s own method of gathering material from the dancers and slowly weaving their different narratives into a work. Bon Voyage, Bob… is thus uncannily Bauschian in its shape and vocabulary, with her characteristic intersection of theatre and dance — so much so that Øyen’s cast gives the appearance of having choreographed much of the work themselves. Its form resembles a long psychoanalytical session in which the dancers replay the past in the present with an overwhelming sense of resignation; dreams fail to realize because ‘they have already been dreamt’. 

Alex Eales’ set is designed as the backstage area of an unseen work (presumably by Bausch) whose scenes revolve to be used as the backdrop to the company’s own existential drama; it is as if Bon Voyage, Bob… comes together whenever the dancers happen to be off stage. Andrey Berezin is the psychoanalyst in the first scene firing questions at Héléna Pikon sitting across from him at a table recounting the death of her brother. Throughout there is a feeling of guilt, helplessness, and disquiet as memories of dead brothers, dead fathers, and stories of loss become the displaced tropes of Bausch’s own death. Øyen structures the work as a linked ritual of obsequies that allows each of the sixteen dancers to express their feelings in solos of either verbal narrative or movement. It is especially poignant to see the older members of the company speaking Bausch’s gestures naturally through their bodies while the younger dancers who never knew her, such as Çaǧdaş Ermis and Stephanie Troyak, absorb them with stunning eloquence. 

However the ‘work’ of mourning that Bon Voyage, Bob… represents does not seem to have enabled what, in psychoanalytic terms, would be a ‘working through’ the suffering that can lead to new levels of freedom and expression. When Rainer Behr angrily assembles a pile of chairs shouting, ‘This is all our shit!’, the depth of pain ten years after the event is heartbreakingly palpable, but it is also clear how far Øyen has retreated from this deeply personal outpouring. And as if three hours of saying goodbye is not enough to make the point, he allows an empty chair to remain in the spotlight as the curtain falls around which the company reassembles for the bows.

The works of Papaioannou and Øyen leave us inevitably with questions about the current state of the company and how it will proceed. Papaioannou suggests a way forward with the creative adoption of Bausch’s incredible legacy of dancers in alternative forms, while Øyen offers a solution that too easily resembles the former company in a new theatrical image. While it is impossible to know what Bausch would have wanted for her company after her death, it is doubtful she would have wished for it to be trapped in forever looking back; and yet her legacy is so intimately related to her works that finding a way forward without her is still fraught with challenges.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Viktor at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: February 12th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Viktor at Sadler’s Wells

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Viktor, Sadler’s Wells, February 8


Eddie Martinez and Ophelia Young in Viktor (photo: Meyer Originals)

Peter Pabst’s set locates Viktor in a deep underground cavern surrounded on three sides by high earthen walls on which wooden ladders lean like the interior of a fortified rampart; at intervals during the performance Andrey Berezin shovels earth from the top on to the stage, an aural as much as a visual rhythm of burial. At the foot of one of the walls, rather incongruously, stands an upright piano. Even more incongruously Julie Shanahan enters armless in a scarlet dress, coming to rest like a smiling Roman goddess as Khachaturian’s Masquerade waltz swirls around her until Dominique Mercy brings a fur coat, places it over her shoulders and escorts her out. In this starkly beautiful opening scene, Pina Bausch merges the conceptions of Pabst’s sepulchral set and Marion Cito’s bright, witty costumes in her choreographic evocation of Rome, the Eternal City that inspired Viktor following an invitation to coproduce with Teatro Argentina di Roma and a company visit. There is none of the city’s classical columns or grandiose baroque architecture here but an imaginary locus in which Viktor’s symbiotic themes of death, antiquity, life and beauty play out over the next three hours, ricocheting from one surreal association to the next: from a living statue to a marriage ceremony for the dead, from bargaining two sheep on the black market to furniture auctions, from flirtations to sexual assault, from undressing to cross dressing to the men sitting in a row putting on makeup, from fur coats stored in a fridge to a human fountain. The imagination wanders deliriously from entrance to entrance, each one setting up the expectation of a narrative that never quite fits with the previous one and brings time to a temporary halt. It’s an exquisitely judged choreographic rhythm to which the musical inputs by Matthias Burkert add a range of emotional highlights, from Russian symphonic music to New Orleans jazz to Italian folk songs.

Three hours may seem a long time, but in identifying the underlying nature of time and experience in these traces of her exploration — and those of her dancers who helped create the material — Bausch has synthesized them by condensing the time and experience into a theatrical setting. We are re-living those experiences in their reconvened form. Bausch was aware of the significance of the present moment as a tangible appearance on the surface of history, and in Viktor she has chosen rather to delve into that fertile ground of the past — underneath the streets — to portray what lies above. It is a miracle she accomplishes this in a mere three hours.

There is no doubt that death hangs over Viktor but there are also the luscious, smiling processions, the ensemble gestural dances and the rapturous swinging that are like shoots appearing above the ground after winter, and the bright colours and flowing design of Cito’s costumes on the elegant dancers are themselves a sign of radiance that punctuates the darker layers of Bausch’s vision. And she never fails to highlight the small absurdities of life that she presents on stage for our delight.

Bausch died nine years ago, so all her works the company has performed since then are, in a poignant yet real sense, memento mori — perhaps none more so, given its themes, than Viktor. It thus has a double resonance, reminding us of Bausch’s genius at transforming experience into a transcendent choreographic language of Tanztheater and of the indivisibility of life and death. We shall never again know what Bausch is thinking in the present, but only what was in her mind at the time of a particular work. Unlike a photograph that sets the past exactly as it appeared at the moment it was taken, a choreographic work can only be an approximation of what it was during the choreographer’s lifetime. For Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch we would seem to be on safe ground — some of the performers were in the original work — and although the level of performance is uneven in terms of experience, Viktor is shot through with conviction and colour to the extent we can see what the work must have been like from its creation in May 1986 up until Bausch’s death in June 2009.

Early on we learn that Viktor is itself a voice from the grave, a ghostly presence who through a woman’s lips in a man’s voice asks permission to remain for the performance insisting he is very quiet and closes the door when there is a draught. How tantalizing to imagine Bausch writing her spectral self into each performance.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Palermo Palermo

Posted: July 15th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Palermo Palermo

Andrey Berezin as the boxer drag queen in Palermo Palermo (photo: Laurent Philippe)

It’s the wall. It’s the long-limbed elegant women in high heels and colourful printed summer dresses picking their way over the rubble and dust with handsome men in white shirts and black trousers attendant on their every whim (and there are many) carrying café tables and chairs like a corps of waiters. It’s the church bells and the power of black in the languid streets. It’s the figure of a boxer turned drag queen with a bloody eye who comperes the event from his dressing room just this side of a passageway between stage and wings. It’s the ripe tomatoes, and the sensuous hint of skin beneath the dresses. It’s the promise of spring when the cherry blossoms descend but may not last forever and the cycle of a feather blown across the stage and caught precisely in its fall. It’s the proud, dazzling machismo dancing in the streets. It’s the light of day flooding the scene, the glimpses in the sunlight of a life lived fully in the streets, passions flaunted and hung out to dry, and the shadows of taunts and twisted arms, drugs and jealousy (even the violence is funny and beautiful). It’s a (not so mangy) dog sniffing among the rubble to find his own picnic: movement of a very different kind. It’s the music: no formally-dressed classical choice, but songs of the street, love songs, songs of the people, of the heart, but it’s also Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto played by six pianists on six upright pianos side by side. It’s the irrational, the irascible, the overflowing of passionate argument like wine spilled from a glass and as unresolved as a revolver pointed at any number of human targets and never fired. It’s the rubbish pitched in the street with such beguiling charm by a cohort of dancers. It’s the beauty of every gesture, the refinement of every passion, the joie de vivre of every smile. It’s the arms, especially of the women, loose and long and supple, winding like tendrils around head and hair and body. What is it like to drown? What is the feeling of being buried? What is it like to be shaken from your passion by an earthquake?

Earthquake or psychological release, the breezeblock wall that fills the entire proscenium collapses in what must be one of the most dramatic openings of any dance theatre work. The beautiful Julie Shanahan stumbles over the rubble gesturing wildly while the sultry voice of Billy Holiday sings Why don’t you do right? Two men run in and lie Shanahan down. ”Pick me up.” “Damiano! Take my hand! No not like that! Hug me!” She pushes him away. Another man brings her a bag of earth that she tips over herself: burial, self-effacement, the promise of spring. “Bring me a chair!” (He does). “Take my hand!” “Fernando!” “Go!” (He does). Both men return with a bag of overripe tomatoes from the market. “Throw them at my face!” (They miss) “In my face, I said, in my face!” she screams. “Hug me. Take my hand”, but she pulls her hand away. “Take me off!” (They do). The tomatoes slide to the floor from her stained and clinging dress. She is smiling. Church bells ring and men are scrambling over the ruins as they begin to clean up.

While bodies are laid out and other victims reenact their escape, an elegant Jorge Puerta Armenta in a cross between a priestly red garment and butler’s tails brings in a table with wine and glasses. He rings a glass like an angelus bell and the victims rise again and walk off over the rubble: faith, resurrection, communion. The church bells ring for a full ten minutes; we are soaked in the cultural dominance of the Catholic faith.

If the mayor of Palermo asks you to create a work about his city and you insist on including the pervasive mafia and the drug trade, how do you do it? Dominique Mercy walks past a girl and stops, without turning round to face her. The girl kicks him up the backside twice, and he drops two packets of white powder on the floor. Not enough. She kicks him again, and Mercy reaches for another packet from his inside pocket and drops it. Not enough. Another kick, another packet, this time from inside his shirt. Two more kicks and two more packets from his right sock, then two more from his left sock. We all laugh, but the point is made.

Supported by her four sons, a widow dressed in black makes her way over the rubble towards a man. Stopping in front of him, she takes a bottle of water from one of her sons, opens it between her thighs and holding it there pisses the water on to the floor, waggling the end up and down with a bob and a hitch to finish. Keeping her eyes on the man, she gives the bottle to her son and the four men escort their mother back over the rubble.

Journalist, raconteur, cinematographer, choreographer; Pina Bausch is all these things, and her dancers are as much her material as they are the source of her information and imagery. During the initial, preparatory visit to Palermo Bausch and her dancers scraped away the superficial to discover the deeper urban strata, to develop an archaeology of the culture and mores, to collect impressions and sketches from daily life and to relate chance encounters. Bausch would then assimilate and sort these impressions by asking questions. Dominique Mercy, a dancer with the company for over 35 years and co-artistic director since Bausch’s death three years ago, explains the process to Sarah Crompton in the program: “What was important for Pina was to have our reactions and our impressions as soon as possible. It was sometimes a bit difficult for us because sometimes we thought we needed time to get more sensation and flavor from the place. But for her it was important to be confronted with things straightway.’ She would ask ‘complicated questions, or simple ones. And then we tried to respond with a little scene or with words. When she wanted movements out of the questions she would say so very clearly.’ It is this idiosyncratic questioning that is the catalyst for Bausch’s choreographic process and it is the answers that form its raw material. The answers are then filtered and distilled through the bodies and voices of her dancers on to the living stage, so by the time the work is complete, the initial reality of a scene may be four or five times removed. Palermo Palermo lasts two hours and twenty minutes, so there has been an enormous amount of distillation and filtering that gives the work not only a cubist – rather than surreal – quality, but its rapid transitions from one scene to the next, the torrent of impressions and images, the juxtaposed viewing angles and multi-faceted approach give it a distinctly cinematic flow. Bausch has this unerring ability to focus our attention on the smallest details as much as on the movement of the entire stage.

An elegant Japanese woman brings a chair on to the stage and sits at a café table. Palermo is a café society, so she is one of many taking an espresso in the morning overlooking the street, but we do not see the others for this is a close-up shot of a ritual divorce to the plucked strings of the koto. The woman removes her wedding ring and ceremoniously swallows it with a sip of coffee, then repeats with the engagement ring. A single espresso is all it takes.

The sonorous voice and powerful persona of Christiana Morganti with her wonderful monologue on the spaghetti that is hers and hers alone, effectively eliminates any other stage detail.

At other times the lens pulls back, revealing the entire scope of Peter Pabst’s inspired design. The collapsing wall at the beginning is an obvious and dramatic example, but later a line of girls do handstands against the back wall in their tee shirts and underwear, a colorful line of symmetry and grace, except for the one who can’t manage upside down at all. It is a delightful moment of pure farce. At another point the cast bombard the same wall with apples, extrapolating the dynamics of the body to that of projectiles.

If there is one overriding theme in Palermo Palermo, it is love: self-love, the need for love, the expression of love, the love of food and power. There is also an erotic charge in many of the scenes, heightened by the beauty of the dancers and the costumes. The statement in the program that costume designer Marion Cito ‘persistently explores the delicate balance between elegance and the everyday, and ensures that the company’s appearance remains colourful and sensuously rich’ is an understatement. The costumes clothe the body in a way that undresses it as much as dresses it. At the beginning of the second act, Regina Advento has a blue ball that she launches into the air from the lap of her red dress in which she catches it again as she runs, like a childrens’ game. The contrasted colours against her dark skin are already beautiful, but how free and erotic is the image as her dress rises into the air as she launches the ball. Advento then ups the erotic ante by changing into a tight-fitting black dress under her red one, hopping through this convoluted procedure with grace and knowing expertise.

Another woman takes out a pair of underpants from a plastic carrier bag and puts them on under her skirt then shakes a bottle of carbonated water and looks coyly at the audience as she twists the top. We can hear the fizz in the silence.

Waving a coloured boa, Andrey Berezin paces affectedly in his corner dressed in a fox stole, black trunks and high heels, while in the cleared space the dancers compete with one another in couples with total abandon, one idiosyncratic movement phrase at a time, replacing their competitor with the touch of a hand. The dresses move beautifully around the dancers, heightening the intensity and the men are on fire, especially Rainer Behr.

There are also elements of pure violence as when Berezin enters from his dressing room in a red silk boxing gown, sitting down to cut a piece of flesh from his forearm and cook it on the upturned iron. He eats it, and does it again. The audience is stirring uneasily. “C’est déguelasse,” I hear behind me. Shanahan in a stocking mask with a gun in her hand sits on the floor and points at whomever she wishes.

One can sense the end. The images and stories of Palermo give way to two processions, as if a travelling troupe is packing up after the show and rolling out. Cherry trees in blossom descend from the sky, slowly, beautifully. The stagehands take them down and undo the ropes that attach them. Two lines of dancers with an apple on their head gently sway towards us, arm in arm, to the sound of a village band playing Verdi. They exit and reappear crossing the stage from left to right in pairs, in a measured, repeated hopping phrase to a rousing finale of bagpipes. Red sand is cascading in streams against the sky. Once the procession has passed, a man tells the story of the fox and the geese. The fox has been fooled into allowing the geese to pray before he eats them. There is nothing he can do but wait until the geese are finished praying.  Ga, ga, ga, ga, ga. It is a story without end.

As we absorb the intricate layers of images and sounds, colours and senses, ideas and absurdities, we discover not so much Palermo but Bausch herself in all her mysterious, brilliant complexity.