October 25, 2014
Grayscale emptiness becomes a playground when designed by Rolf Borzik and inhabited by the Tanztheater Wuppertal. The dancehall that houses Kontakthof generates complexity in its bareness. Within the grand proscenium of BAM’s Howard Gillman Opera House, a humbler stage is nestled in Pina Bausch’s multi-layered environments. In three hours, its curtains only give way to a documentary on ducks, performance happening everywhere else. Within the arena between the open frame through which we see and the closed frame before which they act, the presentation of self is dismantled through that which requires the self to be presented: human contact.
Bausch contextualizes the open ends of tenderness by abstracting privacy. A relentless need to divulge information is privileged, though not incited by amplification. The quietude of gossip sours the space as Nazareth Panadero and Julie Shanahan recite their complaints into a mike, while blunt insults catapult from Anna Wehsarg‘s lips – our eye’s perception of the action determining on whom her vitriol lands.
Physical expressions of privacy show performance as habit. The ensemble is an audience to anything that happens, applauding and joining in. Couples demonstrate soft touches mutating into torturous probing. A man and a woman sit across the space, undressing. The company barges in, unprotested. The two reverse their process, repackaging their intimacy for a crowd. After Panadero succumbs to affectionate touches, Julie Anne Stanzak enters with a knowing smirk, attracting behind her Panadero’s assailants. She knows we know that they may repeat their actions on her; still, she leads her procession through the final blackout.
Such gestural marches are Bausch’s trademark, yet here, their forward trajectory is emphasized. The company reaches the edge of the stage, runs frantically back, and starts again while Cristiana Morganti and Aleš Cucek brainstorm where to have dinner. Shanahan maintains her motion in both directions as she struts alone – Andrey Berezin scurries about attempting to sketch her. They are executed as though they would continue indefinitely if the stage were any larger, characterizing performance space as routinely territorial and arbitrary.
Forward motion is duly appropriate as the company trudges forth under Lutz Forster’s directorship. Fresher faces can seem awkward, while veteran performers can appear fatigued by the piece’s voracious demands. Considering the material, we have no reason to not see these performative side effects as invariably thematic to the work as a whole. Not setting out to teach us, the experiences generated to create Bausch’s oeuvre undergo experiences of their own with each new embodiment.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews