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Pina Bausch & the Tanztheater Wuppertal
Masurca Fogo - Sadler's Wells

Pina Baush, the German choreographer, is at Sadler’s Wells from 31 January 2002 with her company(www.sadlerswells.com). I got my ‘hottest ticket’ (for the premiere, of course!!) of the dance year: more than two months ago the season was completely sold out . January has been - apart from the sales the most exciting month for me in a long time, not to mention Pavarotti’s “sold out” performance of “Tosca”, with people spending thousands to see his farewell from Convent Garden. Then last week I really enjoyed “Don Giovanni” with Bryn Terfel, conducted by the great Colin Davis, directed by Francesca Zambello, also another “SOLD OUT” at the ROH.

Now that I have seen her Marsuca Fogo, I understand why Pina Bausch is called “The Queen of European Dance Theatre”. This marvellously choreographed piece, created for Lisboa Expo 98, premiered on 4 April 1998. It was then taken around the world and is now in London for only four performances really a cause for celebration. Marsuca Fogo is the result of the Tanztheater’s long period of living and researching in Lisboa. Pina and the company enjoyed many things while they were there, including meeting the musical group ‘Madre de Deus’, much loved by Wim Wenders and Antonio Tabucchi, the bullfighting, Capo Verde, and, of course, the DIVINE Amalia Rodrigues with her Fado. The joyful celebration of all these, and of Portuguese life in general, was a real inspiration to Bausch and the company.

She was in London in 1999 for the first time in 17 years and generated hysteria. She is one of the world’s most influential choreographers and she is based at Wuppertal Opera, in the German city in which Pina and her company Tanztheater Wuppertal are to be found since 1973. While some Wuppertalians didn’t care much for her work at first, Pina has gained their admiration. And is greatly loved by many people such as Susan Sontag, Robert Wilson, Peter Brook, Robert Lepage and other luminaries of the intelligentsia who, by starting their pilgrimages to Wuppertal, have put the city on the map. Before it became home to the Tanztheater, it was just another provincial industrial city in Germany. Thanks to Pina, the city is now famous!

Pina was born Philippine Bausch on 27 July 1940 in Solingen, a city in the industrial Ruhr (a great coal-mining area of Germany), not far from Wuppertal. She studied at Folkwang School at the age of 14 with Kurt Jooss, (she is now their director) and the Julliard School of Music, N.Y. At the Folkwang, her choreography tutor was one of the founding fathers of German Expressionist dance or ausdruckstanz, a style that combines movement and music with elements of drama. At the Julliard, her tutor was Antony Tudor. She soon joined the American Ballet, which was directed by Tudor at the Metropolitan Opera. In 1962 she went back to Germany and worked as a soloist with Kurt Jooss at the Folkwang Ballet, where, in 1968, she choreographed her first piece, Fragment, with music by Bartok. She became director when Jooss retired in 1969. In 1971 she was invited to create a piece for the Wuppertal Ballet and two years later she founded Tanztheatre Wuppertal, of which she is also director. (www.pina-bausch.de)

As a choreographer, Pina Bausch is one of the best of the 20th century, greatly expanding the possibilities of modern dance with her creativity and invention. Her style has influenced William Forsythe and Maguy Marin. “She has basically re-invented dance” says William Forsythe. “She is one of the greatest innovators of the past 50 years. Pina needs to examine the world this way. She is a category of dance until herself. Dance-theatre didn’t really exist before she invented it”. Her friend, the American choreographer Paul Sanasardo, says of her, “Pina’s accomplishment is enormous and it is amazing that she has managed to do it all in Wuppertal. I mean who ever heard of Wuppertal before Pina, except as some little industrial city in Germany? It’s hard to believe she pulled that together away from the traditional metropolitan centres of London or New York”. She is shy and reticent and looks fragile, an almost sepulchral figure, always dressed in dark tones, always sucking on a Camel cigarette and drinking a cup of coffee, speaking in a low, halting, gentle voice. She uses the word ‘vielleicht’ - ‘maybe’ - again and again. Despite this subdued demeanour, she nevertheless controls every aspect of Tanztheater Wuppertal. The company’s manager says “no decision is made without her involvement, from the temperature of the heating system to the colours we use on the poster."

Her parents, August and Anita Bausch, proprietors of a small hotel and restaurant, were absorbed by the family business; Roland, her brother and her sister (also called Anita), are both a decade older. Pina says, “My parents didn’t have much time for me, so I was always around the restaurant very late. You have no family life. I was always up till midnight or one o’clock, sitting under a table somewhere.” From an early age she was constantly dancing. People from the local theatre sometimes came to the restaurant and, as Bausch re-calls, “they saw me always hopping about and doing handstands. So they took me to the children’s ballet. All children had to lie on their stomachs and put their legs behind their heads. And it was so easy for me to do that. The teacher said: ’Du bist ein schlangenmensch’ which means something like “You are a snake-person or a contortionist.” Then, at the Folkwang Ballet in Essen, she was exposed to a variety of artistic disciplines. She says, “At this time at the Folkwang, all the arts were together. It was not just the performing arts like music or acting or mime or dance, but there were also painters, sculptors, designers, and photographers. If you just went to a little ballet school, the experience would have been entirely different.

Then came NY she won a scholarship from the German academic exchange service to continue her dance studies. She remembers in disbelief, “I was just 18 when I stepped on that ship, I couldn’t speak any English.” Donya Feuer took Bausch under her wing and became a life-long friend. She remembers, “She was very shy and cried a lot. Everything was so foreign to her. We would have to walk her to the subway every evening until she felt secure. But once we saw what a gifted person she was, we did everything we could so she could be at ease.” Her Juillard teachers were impressed by her grace and radiance as a dancer as were Martha Graham, disciples Louis Horst and Mary Hinkson, Jose Limon. She also worked with Paul Taylor at the New American Ballet.

It was with Paul Sanasardo that Bausch did her most interesting work at that time in NY. In 1961 they collaborated on a piece called “Phases of Madness”, a series of consecutive solos danced to a score by Edgar Varese, and on a second evening-length ballet entitled “In View of God”. Sanasardo remembers her magnetic quality in these pieces: “Pina had a great gift. She was an extremely beautiful dancer. Tudor had staged this piece at Juillard in which Pina danced a section called “500 Arabesques”, and she did it on point and it was wonderful. She was very lyrical and she also had a tremendous intensity.

Then in NY “Pina became extraordinarily thin” says Sanasardo. “We were very concerned because we had great difficulty getting her to eat. It was confusing because we were all young and Pina didn’t speak very much English. We were not sure if something was bothering her. And when we tried to talk to her, she would just say, “No, I’m fine, I am fine”. In the end a safe passage back to Germany was organised for her.” Kurt Jooss had told her to put on some weight or get out of the company she got better quickly, and became one of the principal soloists while assisting Jooss on many pieces, after recovering from this eating disorder. When Jooss left after a decade Bausch took over as artistic director for Folkwang Tanzstudio and began choreographing pieces on her own: Fragment in 1968, music of Bela Bartok; Im Wind der Zeit, 1969; Actionen fur Tanzer, 1971. She says, “I never thought of being a choreographer, the only reason I made those pieces was because I wanted to express myself differently and I wanted to dance. She also adds, about forging her own style: “I didn’t want to imitate anybody, any movement I knew, I didn’t want to use.
Then in 1973 she was offered the post of director of the Ballet der Wupperthaler Buhnen. She was seduced by the possibility of building up her own company with a total freedom. The first production was Frizt. Of this piece, the dancer Endicott says, “There was hardly any music. It was like a suffocating atmosphere”. Then came many other productions: the dance operas Iphigenie auf Tauris and Orpheus und Eurydike 1975; Fruhlingsopfer, based on Stravinsky’s work, which climaxed with the classic Bausch version of The Rite Of Spring; Seven Deadly Sins, the Brecht/Weill opera. In 1977 came Blaubart Bluebeard, followed by an adaptation of Macbeth, He Takes Her By the Hand and Leads Her into the Castle, the Others Follow. Next was Café Muller, Kontakthof Contact Yard”, Arias, and Legend Of Chastity.
All this work was created through her collaboration with the Dutch set-and-costume designer Rolf Borzik, who was also her romantic partner. But just when they were achieving international recognition, Borzik was diagnosed with leukaemia. His death in January 1980 was too much for Pina and threw the future of the company into doubt. She says, “I was so scared I wouldn’t be able to continue. It was so important for me to do a piece right away, so that I wouldn’t even have the chance to worry.” 1980 A Piece by Pina Bausch, deals with nostalgia and childhood games.
While touring in Chile in the summer of 1980, she met a Chilean poet and professor of aesthetics and literature at the University of Chile, Ronald Kay. He says, “Rolf Borzik died in January, and I met her at the end of July, so you can imagine that it was a very hard time for her. Borzik and Pina lived together, he was the stage designer of the company and his collaboration was essential to what became the Tanztheater. She lost a companion and a co-worker. In that sense she was a widow twice over.” There was an immediate affinity and a relationship soon followed. He says “I met Pina without having seen any of her work. I didn’t even know who she was. But we began talking and we continued talking and we are still talking.” They got together in 1981 and shortly afterwards Pina gave birth to her only child Rolf-Salomen, named after Borzik. Since then Bausch’s work has become more joyous and celebratory; the comic work Danzon, created in 1995, around a Cuban dance, features Bausch on stage for the first time in over a decade. Viktor, an ode to the city of Rome, performed at Sadler’s Wells in 1999, signified a change and a necessary evolution of her work. She produced no more pieces of violence and darkness after her son’s birth.

Now, talking of Rome, Pina was also an actress in Federico Fellini’s E la nave va 1982 (And the Ship Goes On), playing the memorable part of the blind Duchess. Bausch is very much loved by the Italians film directors Bellocchio and Bertolucci. She also made her own surreal film Die Klage der Kaiserin (The Lament of the Empress) filmed between 1987-1990.

She also began a film with Pedro Almodovar, who, as one of her admirers, had followed her work for many years, and was the inspiration for his Hable con Ella, a prologue and epilogue about her work. The film began with images of Marzuca Fogo filmed in Palermo, Italy at the Massimo Theatre during its performance there in November 2000, and closed with Café Muller, in which Pina appears between the black tables of a coffee bar, lifeless like a ghost, with closed eyes. Both Pedro and Pina love Palermo, in fact Pina has a work inspired by the city call Palermo Palermo. During this Italian tour, she appeared in Rome at the Teatro Argentina with the piece O Dido, inspired by the city of Rome.

Her work is really a geographical tour of the world; the cities she visited became the setting for her choreographed works. So the Tanztheater Wuppertal Company make their base for a period of time in the chosen cities, where they discover the instruments, music, poetry and the people in their search for ideas and inspiration for choreography. As I watched Marzuca Fogo (Portugal and colonies), I recognised my own travels. Living as I have done, in Italy, Brazil and England, I see my own journeys in her pieces. In one particular vignette, a dancer went to the front row of the audience and, by the manner in which she shook hands with three different people, I was reminded not only of politicians the world over, but also of Queen Elizabeth and her particular manner of “shaking hands”. “Nice to meet you”, said the dancer, “Where do you come from?” (‘Verr do you kom from? Goodbye!’). And when all three people whose hands have been shaken reply, “London”, the dancer repeats the word “London” with different intonation. Really, very funny.


The vignettes are about the ups and downs of love an international problem. One of these featured what looked like long transparent tunnel held by the dancers, into which they poured water and then threw themselves into it an proceeded to have a lot of fun swimming up and down. And then a remarkably lifelike walrus that had previously been on the stage, or rather, on the beach, returns barking loudly all the time - amazing! A real chicken came on twice for her vignette…. When I was queuing for the ladies’ room in the interval, one young woman remarked how well behaved the chicken was! I said “that of course she was well behaved, with all the watermelon that she was pecking on stage - the chicken have though she was part of a ‘happening’.” Pina always uses animals in her pieces; Arias, for example, features a hippopotamus.

Many of the vignettes that make up Marzuca Fogo concern orgasms because of the sexual culture of Brazil I feel she must have been inspired by it!!
But, ironically, orgasms are reduced to the positive “Yes! Yes!” and the negative “No! No!” and the metaphysical “ Oh my God!”. There is also a vignette dedicated to the favelas, Samba music and dance. In this vignette, the dancers come on stage with pieces of wood which they put together to build a fragile house into which they all go; the audience look through the window and sees them dancing.
Regina Advento, the Brazilian dancer, takes part here in a fantastic Samba!
It reminded me of the shantytowns of Brazil. Miraculously, the house remains standing throughout the exuberant performance. You would think with all the movement it would fall down. It was a brilliant presentation with brilliant Samba dancing. After the dance, the performers each take a piece of the house, as the temporary structure disappears, as if it had never been there.

The stage, with its all white beach setting, is backed by rise of black rocks, which the dancers keep ascending and descending, with Regina Advento continually going up and down with coloured plastic buckets in her hands and on her head: fantastic equilibrium. And the absurdity that I love so much: an hysterical couple with mounds of food share an apple and dentures at the table, reminding me of my mother, with her dentures being taken out at the table after her stroke.

A dancer is held high by the others, and says into a microphone, “Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!” The female dancers are all barefoot or in high heels and glamorous dresses, seductive and menacing; in general here, it is the men who get humiliated. Huge images of a couple dancing a dance from Capo Verde are projected onto the backdrop of the stage, making the actual dancers look like miniatures against a ‘screen’. Our eyes are drawn to the projected images rather than the actual dancers.

In the last part of Marzuca Fogo, a roaring ocean fills the ‘screens’, so that walls, ceiling, floor, seem to be engulfed. The beach is actually portrayed by water shown on film footage, and you can hear the sound of the ocean. It feels as if the ocean has crashed up onto the stage. The last twenty minutes are extraordinary, with the beach scene and the water crashing against the rocks, with a background of the divine Amalia Rodrigues singing Naufragio. (She was the Queen of Fado for 60 years, Fado is the soul of decorum, and the fate of Portugal; since the mid-19th century its form has remained constant: a Portuguese guitar, pear-shaped, with 12 strings, and used for delicate improvisation, plus a Spanish guitar accompany the singer.) Listening to Amalia Rodrigues singing Naufragio, feeling that the sea was all around me, I was moved to tears. The filmed images engulf the stage, there are waves everywhere and the dancers seem to lie inside the waves. Peter Pabst designed this extraordinary set. The music of Marzuca Fogo comes from Duke Ellington, with tango by Gidon Kremer. When Amalia Rodrigues’s song had finished, the water continued crashing against k.d. lang’s The Air That I Breathe.

Pina’s trademark vignettes unfold in my head. Her travelogue pieces and her theatre are hypnotic. In all her work there is no narrative but a series of collages: very surrealistic, such as the woman sitting in a bathtub of bubbles washing the plates and passing them to another dancer.

The devoted fans of Pina Bausch like the fanatical followers of Wagner’s Ring travel the world to catch her show. Apparently there is also a “Supporters of Pina Bausch Tanztheater” group at the Sadler’s Wells who are involved in fund-raising, and has the support of the German Ambassador. Then there is the Pina Bausch Circle made up of such people as Laivi von Ploetz, Monica Bahadur, Debora Bull, Stephen Daldry, Ian Hay Davison, Bryan Ferry, Antony Gormley, Michael Morris, Miranda Richardson, Alan Rickman and Sadi Ulrich. At the Sadler’s Wells Premiere on 31 January, the Circle gave a cocktail party in the foyer, at which I spotted Fiona Shaw and Richard Wilson.

In October 1998, Pina Bausch and the Tanztheater Wuppertal, celebrated their twenty-five years of creativity with a festival. Many artists from all over the world participated, including Mikhail Baryshnikov, Anne-Teresa de Keersmaeker, William Forsythe and Caetano Veloso. (When Caetano Veloso gave the Omaggio a Federico e Giulietta concert and made the accompanying CD, dedicated to Federico Fellini, he made a tribute to Pina Bausch, who appeared in Fellini’s film E la nave va. Caetano says, “Like Fellini. I am in love with Pina”. So he sings “Dama das Camelias” in this tribute to Fellini and dedicates it to Pina Bausch. How sweet of him!) (She used the same piece of music in her piece Cravo Nelken, from a recording by the Fireband of Rio de Janeiro.)

It is really an achievement - Pina Bausch is loved all over the world. Her last new pieces were Wiesenland, inspired this time by Budapest (2000), and by Brazil in Agua (2001). She is creating a new piece, known by one of her frequently used titles, A Work by Pina Bausch. She says, “It is difficult. At this point, I don’t know anything, I just can hope. I feel my way and try not to be afraid. It is not just that the dancers don’t know where we are going, it is that I don’t know where we are going also. It is not just that they have to trust me, I have to trust myself too.


As the house-lights came on at the end of the interval and at the end of the performance of Masurca Fogo, I noticed that Pina herself and the non-dancing members of her company had been seated in the stalls, following the performance. As soon as the performance finished, they all went backstage. I think by following the performance with the audience they can gauge what the audience likes and their reactions. Furthermore, they can see the rest of the company from a different point of view seeing things from the other side of the footlights as it were!

The entire company went on stage to acknowledge the standing ovation. Pina looked incredibly beautiful and serene.
Bye, bye ‘cool’ woman!!!!




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