writers on dancing


More Kindred than Kinder

"Für die Kinder von gertern, heute und morgen"
(For the Children of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow)
A piece by Pina Bausch
Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch
Howard Gilman Opera House
Brooklyn Academy of Music
New York
November 16, 18-21 , 2004

by Nancy Dalva
copyright © 2004 by Nancy  Dalva

The wonderful piece Pina Bausch has brought to the United States for the first time seems made for us here in New York, where it was seen during Tanztheater Wuppertal's ninth appearance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In theatrical power, "Für die Kinder von gertern, heute und morgen" matches the compelling early pieces shown beginning in 1980, like "Café Müller," "Bluebeard," and "Rites of Spring." It displays the interest in social dance forms that have been seen in her work, and social relations (the repartee for couples is acute and amusing) and social attire (fabulous high heeled shoes, cocktail dresses, evening gowns), with merely a whiff of the deracinated expressionism that has plagued her more outlandish confabulations, which can be a farrago of obscure reference. (Here, it was a barber shop scene, and in the sympathetic overall context of the piece, the scene transpired as something you didn't get, not something you wanted to escape.) The work also contains a lot of what one might call pure dance, in solos whose various unique styles are unified by the white framework of the stage, the communal tone, and the extreme attentiveness of the performers to each other in joint interactions.

This attentiveness also extends to us, the audience, by means of direct utterance, by the occasional passage of company members up the aisles and around the back of the house, and by the seeming absence of the "fourth wall," that invisible theatrical construction that separates viewer from doer. We are not implicated in the work, but we are not excluded from it, either. Rather, one yearns oneself into it the way one does into a story read at bed time.

For although this piece is not about children, it has the quality of a fairy tale, a bedtime story, of a legend—or actually of all of them, in a series. As the title suggests, it is for the children in us, the children we used to be, the child we had or might have. It seems to be in part perhaps about a child's point of view of being grown up, when adulthood seemed desirable; and about an adult's dreams of childhood, when being quite young seems desirable. Mostly, though, this dance is a tale of rescue and of embrace, enacted with earth (sand castles and such) wind (an actor blows another, dressed as a cloud), fire (some play with a cigarette lighter), and water (the cloud has a watering can, there is water in glasses, and water spurts from someone's mouth).

There is a playful, innocent, comforting eroticism throughout—the work affords the kind of charge one gets, as a child, seeing one's parents dancing together, and every game is played lovingly, if knowingly. There are scenes like glamorous proms, like tango parties, like snippets from "real life,"and the music is variously, charming, cinematic, jazzy, Brazilian, tangoistic, up beat, and off-beat, but somehow of a whole. But there is, too, the merest Gorey-ish whiff of the gothic, a nightmare with an off balance burglar jumping on top of some mysterious black cabinets on wheels.

As ever with Pina Bausch, this work of dance-theater was a group effort, with the original impulse and a severe editing and re-editing process coming from her, but each participant contributing both individually, and in concert with other players. Thus the one full group dance has a marvelous concerted power (when seated on the floor, they all bounce forwards towards us, one mentally rushes forth to meet them half way), and each performer has significant solo moments besides. There are also shifting, real-feeling dynamics among them, as they pair up or appear in trio. The cast included a bevy of individual beauties and singularly attractive men: Rainer Behr, Anrej Berezin, Alexandra Castres, Ditta Miranda Jasifi, Melanie Maurin, Dominique Mercy (primus inter pares), Pascal Merighi, Nazareth Panadero, Helena Pikon, Jorge Peurta Armenta, Azusa Seyama, Julie Anne Stanzak, Michael Strecker, Fernando Suels, and Kenji Takagi. In their successful amalgam of dance and theater, the elegant, architectural set by Peter Babst, the truly glamorous costumes by Marion Cito, and the musical compilation by Matthias Burkert and Andreas Eisenschneider were inseparable contributors. And yet, the overall sense one has of this work is that it is a dance, with excellent dance values (not true of all of Bausch) and that it had a singular choreographer. Perhaps the right thing, really, to call Pina Bausch would be "auteur." She is at once generous, and strict.

The key to the whole is at the beginning, when two men, of a height, sit on a table in front of us. Over and over, the one on the left tips over, precariously, tilting towards the floor head-first, only to be caught by the one on the right and pulled back up, so that they are as they were. The scene feels like a clock being wound back just before something dreadful. Here in New York, there can be no doubt about what that might be, and indeed this piece seems like a response to what we call 9/11, recalling the time—it seems more than three years ago, doesn't it?—when we were quoting Auden, and thinking that we must learn to love one another.

That possibility seems to be the hope and the admonition of this deeply felt work that comes to us from Germany, with an international cast. At the curtain call–though there was no curtain, we were never shut out—the company looked at us sympathetically, with Pina Bausch at their center, benign, slightly smiling, and sad-eyed. One felt honored to be in the room with the cast, who had given us such a gift of themselves, and, I am sad to say, one felt unworthy. But there was no such implication from the Wuppertalers, who were more than "kinder," and more than kind, in regarding us as kindred.

Photos by Stephanie Berger.

Volume 2, No. 44
November 22, 2004
Copyright ©2004 by Nancy Dalva


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