|Paris Opera Ballet in Pina's Orpheus and Eurydice. Photo: Stephanie Berger|
Backing up a little, even before her premature death in 2009, Bausch's reputation and legend had been building into its own mythology, and with good reason. The works that BAM (where I work) brought beginning in the early 80s, and through the mid-90s, formed the foundation: they were unsparing, tough, gritty, sadistic, yet humorous, sensual, and ultimately optimistic about our ability to thrive in the face of adversity, without being as didactic as that just sounded.
These tough works (including such pieces as Palermo, Palermo; Arien; Gebirge; Nelken; and Two Cigarettes in the Dark) in the eyes of her many fans forged her reputation as a visionary artist willing to put her dancers through hell and, literally, (not so high) water, and their willingness to endure her psychological steeplechases. They also paved the way for her subsequent phase, which would last for the remainder of her career— numerous commissioned travelogues about specific cities or cultures that shed most of the darkness that had engulfed her previous output.
In all of these pieces, which had only been presented in New York at BAM, dance played a significant, but not necessarily proprietary, role. Often more memorable were the shocking scenes in which women (and occasionally, men) appeared to be if not actually tortured, then symbolically so. Or the comical vignettes involving one of her many charismatic dancers slowly promenading while doing something ridiculous, yet behaving as if it were the coolest thing in the world, and watching our reaction. Or the never-ending flirtations between women, in satin slip dresses and heels, and men in suits, or shirtless.
The dance sections came with regularity, of course, but her slippery, lyrical phrases seemed fraught with urgency, as if the dancers needed to get them out of their system before the next bizarre section began. They were the glue that always brought the emotional dynamic back to neutral ground.
|Marie-Agnès Gillot and Stéphane Guillion in the title roles. Photo: Stephanie Berger|
The women, barefoot, wore elegant long-sleeved, floor-length gowns of black, white, and pale pink throughout the respective sections (mourning, violence, peace, and death). The three featured solo singers wore black gowns of a similar design; they moved in concert with their corresponding doppelgänger dancers. (The Balthasar-Neumann Ensemble und Chor performed with clarity and verve in the pit.) The male dancers wore suits, butcher aprons, or nude-hued trunks. The long-limbed Marie-Agnès Gillot portrayed Eurydice in a red gown, and an ardent Stéphane Buillion, Orpheus, the night I attended. As fluent as the POB dancers were, I missed the strong, individual personalities that Pina had cultivated over many years in Wuppertal.
Bausch often relied heavily on a jukebox music approach to set the mood for each section in her non-operatic work. With Gluck's score as the one prevailing given, that liberty was taken away, so Bausch needed to describe the mood with action and movement. She couldn't or wouldn't use mime, instead relying on dance. Yet dance was but one tool she worked with, and she never seemed completely interested in expanding her fairly limited choreographic vocabulary, at least not the way she voraciously probed the human psyche, or new cultures.
|Marie-Agnès Gillot as Eurydice. Photo: Stephanie Berger|