"In the beginning there is nothing. It starts very small and becomes bigger." Pina Bausch creates epics, but they always retain that quality of having come from absence, of having been built piece by piece. Bausch's dances start with a single... [more]
"In the beginning there is nothing. It starts very small and becomes bigger." Pina Bausch creates epics, but they always retain that quality of having come from absence, of having been built piece by piece. Bausch's dances start with a single concept -- a kernel of movement, a memory -- which she builds upon conceptually and physically. Sometimes, the collaged outcome of her method is incoherent; most of the time it is rich, real, and substantial.
Bausch constructs dances by using repetition as ballast for meaning: by repeating a gesture as simple as fiddling with a lock of hair or crossing a leg, the movement becomes a phrase, and then a dance. She creates big from small by starting a phrase as a solo, then adding dancers until the entire company (sometimes more than 20 dancers) busts out in ecstatic unity.
Pina Bausch was born Philipine Bausch in Solingen, Germany, in 1940. She began her training in 1955 under Kurt Jooss, a pupil of Rudolph von Laban (the father of German Expressionist dance). After studying at Julliard with Antony Tudor and Jose Limon in the late '50s, she danced in and directing Jooss' Folkwang Ballet in Germany. In 1973, she formed her own company, Tanztheater Wuppertal.
Influenced by the genre-questioning anarchy happening in all media, Bausch blazed the trail for dance theater out of the rubble of post-war Germany. This classically trained dancer took the performance techniques of improvisation and Strasberg's sense memory method in order to build a new form.
In fact, building figures prominently in her grand proscenium works as both a device and a theme, as construction was particularly resonant with the state of Germany during her early lifetime. In "Nur Du" ("Only You"), dancers build a huge, precarious mountain of chairs upon which they balance and dance, before dismantling the construction with arresting fluidity. In "Nelken," men in suits stack what look to be refrigerator boxes one on top of the other; using the box towers as landing pads, the dancers leap from 15 to 20 feet of scaffolding. Indeed, Pina Bausch has taken set design to new heights, having adorned the stage with a replica of a giant redwood, a field of fake carnations, great pools of water, and even a hippopotamus.
Bausch's work also takes gender relationships as a core theme. At first disconcerting to the feminist eye, the view of women in cocktail dresses and high heels getting thrown around by men proves more subversive at second glance. We also see the men (some burly ones at that) sporting cocktail dresses and pointy shoes, and we see women defending themselves and voicing commands. When Bausch's work does depict brutalized women, it makes a strong, uncomfortable point about it -- and like all good feminist critique, it acknowledges that the culture of machismo does as much wrong to men as it does to women.
For all her stereotypical German angst -- all the screaming, the pacing, the pulling out of hair -- Pina Bausch is undeniably a great artist. Her work has spawned a slew of imitators for better (Sacha Waltz) and for worse (they are, unfortunately, everywhere). More importantly, it has urged younger choreographers to explore all matters of artistic vision. [show less]