Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Pina Bausch at Sadler's Wells, London

Pina Bausch
Sadler’s Wells
Rosebery Avenue
London EC1R 4TN

by Ana Vukadin

I had been looking forward to seeing Pina Bausch at Sadler’s Wells since November, when I first booked the ticket for her Café Muller (1978) and The Rite of Spring (1975). So overjoyed was I, that I decided to buy the £4 programme and didn’t even notice the little white note, so cheekily inserted inside the booklet. Once seated comfortably in my first circle seat, I opened the programme and the note flew out: ‘due to an indisposition, Pina Bausch will not be performing tonight. She will be replaced by Helena Pikon’. “What?! No Pina!! But I came here to see Pina!!” I though indignantly.

Moments later, the lights went out and Café Muller began. Every disappointment evaporated and I found myself lost in what I can only describe as one of the most moving performances I have ever seen in my life. An empty café filled with wooden chairs and tables is the set for the entrancing movements of three men and three women, to music by Henry Purcell. Two women and a man appear to be sleepwalking, as they dance with closed eyes, while the other three attempt in vain to protect them by rushing about chaotically, overturning the chairs and tables in their way. The sudden spurts of dancing, alternating between slow and fast, small and large movements, are abruptly ended by collapsing on the floor or slumping against walls. They feel like intense moments of a desire to feel, to live, to love, which then spiral into emptiness. The frequent repetition only emphasizes this sensation. One of the most poignant sequences is between two lovers, who are passionately and desperately drawn to one another, while another tries to keep them apart, knowing that their love is ultimately destructive. The two are finally locked in a tragic dance of intense embraces, and painful flinging of each other against the wall, alluding perfectly to the complexities, anxieties and impossibilities of love.

While Café Muller is a deeply personal performance, in a surreal and dreamlike setting, Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring is more traditional – if such a word can be used on Tanztheater Wuppertal productions – in the sense that Pina Bausch clearly follows the story Stravinsky narrates with his music: a pagan ritual between two tribes of men and women ending with the rapture of a virgin destined to dance till exhaustion until she is sacrificed. However, the way the story is treated, from the stage being covered in fresh earth, to the individual expressiveness of each dancer is pure Pina. The dancers, sixteen women and sixteen men, are all entranced in a manic, erotic and gripping pagan dance, which perfectly mirrors the feral intensity of the music, and entirely draws you in.

The amazing thing about Pina Bausch’s choreography is that you are moved to tears, smiles, alarm, fear – any number of emotions – without really being able to say why. Perhaps the reason it penetrates us so is because fractions of the pieces stir up some memory in our subconscious, and as we are about to grasp it, some other graceful movement has brought up some other memory. And so it goes...Hers is a performance which is not meant to be interpreted. As Pina herself puts it so accurately, “when the dancer gives his or her response, the response concerns everyone”.

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