PINA BAUSCH -- RITE OF SPRING/CAFE MULLER
September 18, 2017
Pina Bausch, the German choreographer whose highly theatrical, emotionally charged dance-theater continues to inspire artists and audiences, once said, "I’m not interested in how people move but what moves them.”
Years after her passing, the impact of her work is undiminished. Her company, Tanztheater Wuppertal, now under the direction of Adolphe Binder (formerly director of the Göteborg company and the first non-Bausch dancer to direct Wuppertal) is presenting two iconic Bausch works at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The performers range in ages from their 20s to their 60s, a wonderful and rare thing to see in dance.
In Cafe Muller (1978) chairs and tables are minor obstacles that get dragged, bumped into, or quickly removed as the dancers wander, move, run, and dance, alone or with varying degrees of interaction or isolation, seemingly trapped inside the grey walls. Moments of confusion, pain, sorrow, and sometimes physical violence are strung together, in seamlessly repetitive sequences, to the mournful 17th c. music of Henry Purcell. A woman in a long white satin dress, stayed mostly pressed against the wall, eyes closed, or stiffly and slowly walking with her arms reaching forward and out-turned, in an eerie state of perpetual vulnerability. A couple takes turns slamming each other against the wall, only to recover and embrace again and again. Bausch brilliantly connects heartbreaking moments with impermanent gestures of reconciliation, and we feel complicit when the initial shock wears off. Café Muller remains a stunning portrait of the paradox of human despondency and the resilience it continually engenders.
Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is a monumental work, originally premiered with choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky by the Ballets Russes in 1913, a dance performance that famously caused a riot. Bausch is one of the very few choreographers since then to have successfully equalled the music’s legendary intensity. The stage is covered in real dirt, and soon becomes populated by women and men who dance in clearly gendered groupings, until one woman is chosen to be sacrificed. Bausch kept the original scenario but got rid of that production’s ancient Russian pagan costumes and décor: large baggy costumes exchanged for revealing the body, with the women in silky slips and the men black slacks and bare torsos.
The gut-wrenching, convulsive choreography for the women seems propelled by a pervasive fear, while the men surround them, at times even stalking them, making sure that the ritual comes to pass. It is uncanny to see the similarities between Bausch’s choreography from 1975 and the reconstructed work after Nijinsky, premiered by the Joffrey Ballet in 1987.
The same feeling of anxiety consumes both, and each builds to the inevitable climax, through its amorphous gendered groupings, circular patterns, and heavy, earthbound choreography, although they inhabit different stylistic universes. Nijinsky’s jagged, sharp, inward movement contrasts with Bausch’s more flowing, highly emotional and expressive modern dance vocabulary. But in both, the chosen one’s individual’s sacrifice for the community, through a final gut-busting solo dance, releases us from the gripping tension and delivers the cathartic moment.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson