Pina Bausch’s body of work is one of the most acclaimed worldwide. As the founder of Tanztheater Wuppertal, Bausch is often credited as the mother of a unique genre of dance and theatre, that conquers almost all who have the fortune to come in touch with it. Over a thirty-six year period Bausch created forty-four full-length works altogether, accompanied in the creation of the pieces by her large ensemble and her steady collaborators. Her attentive observation, unbiased interest, inquisitive eye and an extraordinary aesthetic-sensibility, brought her to produce one masterpiece after another, failing in very few instances.
By Veronica Posth
The impressive and outstanding volume of work she produced is the result of her dancers’ devotion to her, and their full dedication to the creative process. She passed away in 2009 but the beauty, importance, poetry and relevance of her oeuvre could remain indefinitely, as it touches on highly topical issues of the essence and nature of the individual, and of humankind at large. This is one reason why all over the world Bausch’s work is loved and admired, and why her genius’ imprint, not only in the dance industry, has become a point of reference for many.
Bausch’s work demands of the performers to show their seemingly real vulnerabilities on stage, their true selves; the reasons why they choose to dance, and to share that which can only be expressed through movement. The performers reveal their stories by dancing, singing, talking, laughing, crying and screaming in realistic yet magical settings. These personal offerings became the stories and aesthetics that we witness in Bausch’s repertoire. Bausch’s working method for the creation of her pieces often entailed asking simple and personal questions of the dancers, and then using their responses that came in numerous and creative forms through movements, stories, and the use of props and objects. Her interest for poetic authenticity is found also in the set designs of long-term collaborators Rolf Borzik and Peter Pabst. Her intuition for practical elegance also brought her to collaborate with costume designer Marion Cito after the early death of Borzik, Bausch’s life partner and costume/set designer for her creations up until 1980. The international co-productions and long residencies of the company, brought many cultural and aesthetic influences to the works of Tanztheater Wuppertal, which are still consistently toured by the company throughout the world.
Since Bausch’s death, the company continues to present the pieces with Pina’s spirit and imprint. This is thanks to the devoted practice of transferring the deep knowledge and embodied wisdom of a particular performance quality from one generation of dancers to another. Currently the ensemble is composed of thirty-four dancers of whom a third had not worked with Bausch.
Sweet Mambo is Bausch’s penultimate work from 2008 after Bamboo Blues from 2007. The two pieces were created as an attempt to reveal how a single starting point, having the same set design, could lead to two completely different outcomes, developed by two separate casts.
Almost the entire original cast came together for the final time, to perform this season of Sweet Mambo; with the exception of Regina Advento whose role was danced by Naomi Brito. Also noteworthy is that this year the piece was restaged by Norwegian choreographer Alan Lucien Øyen, who is one of few choreographers selected since Bausch’s passing to make new work with the company. (Bon voyage, Bob, premiere June 2nd 2018)
The dancers on stage; Andrey Berezin, Naomi Brito, Daphnis Kokkinos, Nazareth Panadero, Michael Strecker, Hélena Pikon, Julie Shanahan, Julie Anne Stanzak and Aida Vainieri. The music, chosen by Bausch herself, as in most of her works, and curated by Matthias Burkert and Andreas Eisenschneider, is a combination of eclectic songs and soundscapes from nature; the singing of the cicadas on a summery afternoon. Excerpts from the film Blue Fox by Viktor Tourjnsky are projected onto white curtains hanging at the back of the stage and function as a utopian and idyllic background.
The work is rich with powerful images and unforgettable scenes that at times are repeated. Relationship dynamics are brought onstage with aspects of dependency, despair, torment, longing, rage, frustration, and helplessness. Sensuality plays a potent role in the whole piece, embodied in graceful and articulate movements in elegant dresses. Anecdotes and memories inhabit the auditorium of the Wuppertal Opera House. Personal stories of the dancers that worked with Pina for decades become universal stories through dance form. Those relate to human dynamics, relational difficulties, societal habits, emotional traps, disappointments and desires. Connection to and detachment from the other, nature, authenticity, irony; personal dilemmas are also aspects of mankind’s essence that Bausch acutely tackles in all her works. The emotional spectrum that Bausch touches is infinite; she observed life in all its colours and complexities.
In Sweet Mambo the iconic dancers are as spellbinding as usual, with all their specific individualities and strong personalities. Naomi Brito, the only newcomer to the piece, dances proudly and beautifully, merging organically with the rest of the cast.
Aside from certain moments when they appear as vile creatures, the men act generally detached yet elegant, and available to the women. At times they help the women to turn in elegant twirls. In other moments they worship them, nuzzling up their backs and into their necks. They become chaise longes behind the semi-transparent curtains offering the women a place to rest. Their approach to the women is delicate, attentive and in general controlled. Only at times does it become somewhat brutal.
Julie Shanahan supported by these gracious men as she lets herself fall. Michael Strecker and Andrey Berezin cease her as she tries to reach a voice that screams her name. Constantly pulling her back, making her scream “let me go” with a piercing, desperate voice. She occurs strong yet exhausted. At times she performs light and bubbly amusing scenes, and later she breaks-down seemingly overwhelmed by despair.
Julie Anne Stanzak’s hair is pulled by Daphnis Kokkinos who runs around the stage making her follow as if she were a horse at a race. She nevertheless runs with the full dignity and beauty of an animal in captivity, proudly obeying the man despite the fastidious enforcement.
Nazareth Panadero speaks and laughs loudly, narrating anecdotes and common sayings with dark humour and a good dose of sharp irony. She performs the role of the wise and funny woman that always conquers the sympathy of the public with a bout of raw yet amusing sarcasm.
Aida Vainieri complains about a man wanting to talk to her when she didn’t want to talk to him, and about her wanting to talk to a man who didn’t want to talk to her. She then tells herself she can talk to herself. Disappointments, incongruences, paradoxes, and complaints are part of her voracious solo which invites us to consider the juxtaposition between what we preach and what we practice, and the common opposition between what we ask for and what we really want.
Héléna Pikon wears a skinny, short, shiny dress; reminiscent of a cocotte, she sits upon the lap of Andrey Berenzin. “Oh yes! Oooh yes! Bravo!”, she exclaims orgasmically. He seems completely detached from what is happening to her. She seems overtaken by ecstasy, scanning the crowd enthusiastically with binoculars; we look back at her with some puzzlement. Later in the piece, as if to counteract the former scene, she dances a melancholic solo, which silently screams loneliness, despair, and nostalgia.
In one of Naomi Brito’s solo moments, she’s enveloped in a blown-up, rounded, floating, see-through textile. She looks like a creature forming in a womb, the organ where our human life begins. Her presence in this piece is in fact a new-beginning, and yet somehow this is the beginning of an end as many of the iconic dancers slowly leave the stage for perhaps the last time.
There is definitely a shining bright future and continuation of Bausch’s work with the younger generation of members of the ensemble. Their complete dedication, commitment, skills and love for their craft and these historical pieces of art, keep the eternal and universal Pina Bausch’s oeuvre alive and thriving.