Home & + | Search
Featured Categories: Special Focus | Performance Reviews | Previews | DanceSpots | Arts and Education | Press Releases
Join ExploreDance.com's email list | Mission Statement | Copyright notice | The Store | Calendar | User survey | Advertise
Click here to take the ExploreDance.com user survey.
Your anonymous feedback will help us continue to bring you coverage of more dance.
SPOTLIGHT:
PERFORMANCE REVIEWS
ExploreDance.com is sponsored by
ExploreDance.com Kickstarter Campaign

The ExploreDance.com Kickstarter campaign is live! Please consider backing our campaign to help us expand our coverage of dance.
www.kickstarter.com/projects/1306220552/exploredancecom
ExploreDance.com (Magazine)
Web
Other Search Options
Robert Johnson
Music and Dance Reviews
Performance Reviews
Modern/Contemporary
Performance Art
Post-Modern
Brooklyn Academy of Music
United States
New York City
New York
Brooklyn, NY
ExploreDance.com is sponsored by
******* ** **
exploredance.com

Making Kontakt - Pina Bausch's Kontakthof

by Robert Johnson
October 23, 2014
Brooklyn Academy of Music
30 Lafayette Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11217
(718) 636-4111
Let's hear it for the ducks. Three cheers! Hurrah! The web-footed stars of a documentary film projected in the midst of Pina Bausch's "Kontakthof," which opened at BAM's Howard Gilman Opera House on October 23, these waterfowl have qualities everyone should applaud. The little ducklings have only recently emerged from their eggshells, the film's narrator says admiringly, but they are already negotiating the currents of the lake. Mama Mallard preens and splashes, but then returns to gliding looking serene and unruffled. With life all figured out, the ducks appear successful in a way the human characters in "Kontakthof" pointedly are not.

In this stunning piece from 1978, which Bausch's Wuppertaler Tanztheater has revived to mark the 30th anniversary of the company's BAM debut, the men and women are more likely to appear perturbed. Like the ducks, they devote attention to grooming themselves. But all that primping isn't necessarily doing them any good. They don't have any ducklings to show for it (they're more like children themselves); and although they smile a lot they don't seem happy. The men's concern for the women's appearance seems like a prelude to sexual assault.

Is the clothing they wear responsible for their anomie? The women have a hard time with their silk cocktail dresses, tugging at the fabric and adjusting the way it clings to their figures. Then there are the shoes—high heels, naturally. A woman of a certain class doesn't go out in the evening wearing sandals, not even to a nature film. Not even to an ordinary public hall like the one depicted in "Kontakthof," with its sober gray curtain covering the stage at back, an upright piano against one wall and chairs pushed to the sides so couples can dance. This venue designed by Rolf Borzik is so provincial. It might be a school or a municipal building. But these middle-class women aspire to greater things, so they go tottering along in heels.

At one point the women parade across the space in a diagonal line, listing forward and marching stiff-legged or pausing to flatten one foot on its side, the way people do when they are trying on shoes in a store and the shoes are too tight. While Bausch's irony seems less overtly comic in "Kontakthof" than it does in a later piece like "Danzón," the choreographer evidently has had a grant proposal accepted by Monty Python's "Ministry of Silly Walks." Bringing up the rear of this line of hobbled women is Andrey Berezin. He performs the same steps as they do, but since he is a man wearing flat shoes his appearance in this sketch is just a tease.

He's a joker all right, this Berezin. At another point he chases Nazareth Panadero dangling a mouse by its tail and flinging it at her feet while she panics and screams. He turns up in the background, a distracting figure carrying what appears to be a sex doll that he inflates or deflates. Another nonsensical episode has Ophelia Young begging for coins so she can ride a mechanical horse like the one bolted to the sidewalk outside the drugstore. It's always men who have the coins, and Michael Strecker has to show Young, patronizingly, that the machine won't work unless she plugs it in. Despite their suits and ties, the boys torment the girls in "Kontakthof" just as they used to do on the playground.

At the very beginning, the dancers present themselves for our inspection. Julie Shanahan steps forward to smooth back her hair, slump and straighten her posture in profile, and show us her hands palms-up, palms-down. It's as if she has to prove her nails are scrubbed before she will be allowed to sit at the dinner table. The women aren't the only ones who are judged on their appearance. Later Shanahan and Panadero will appear as Lorelei twins wearing pink nightgowns outlandishly accessorized with lace and veils. The twins scamper and laugh girlishly, but laying their cuteness aside they also share critical observations of two men they encounter. Scott Jennings smokes and has bad skin, Shanahan notes with distaste, while Pablo Aran Gimeno's body odor repels her. The women flee. In another skit, Shanahan dons a ball-gown and the other dancers applaud as she moans into a microphone, faking an aria of orgasms.

On one level, "Kontakthof" is about the way men and women perform for one another. The most difficult parts of this show to watch, however, are those in which people are no longer merely looking at each other critically or gossiping, but actually touching—the "kontakt" of the title. With passive resignation, the dancers submit to being petted; but they also remain nonplussed when the action turns to cruel pinching and biting. In one sequence, partners deliberately mortify each other using a grab-bag of nasty tricks that would impress The Three Stooges. The audience laughs, but then, as this physical abuse continues, the house grows quiet. The subtle and not-so-subtle touching that threads its way through "Kontakthof" leads up to a climactic scene where the men swarm around Panadero gently pawing, tickling, scratching and buffing all at once until the poor woman starts to cry.

Expecting women to wear high heels and tight dresses may feel like bullying to some people, but it seems fair to ask if we humans would do any better naked. Our skins, the dancers show us pinching a wad of flesh between their fingers, are both tough and exquisitely sensitive. Romance strokes them like sand-paper.

Each of the skits in Bausch's work has a little story to tell. The dancers also line up on chairs at the front of the stage to recount personal experiences. Addressing us directly, they speak all at once in a Babel of languages, only coming into focus as individuals when Berezin holds a microphone briefly in front of each one. The stories describe dates gone awry—a woman laughs too hard at a bit of spinach caught in a prospective boyfriend's teeth, and she loses him; a man unexpectedly finds himself in bed with a virgin; another man enters a woman's apartment that is eerily decorated with Pierrot dolls.

Ducks don't have problems like these. They don't feel repulsed or disappointed. Ducks have instinct, and we have it, too. But we also have the thing we call "convention" — -patterns of learned behavior that by the force of repetition come to take the place of natural laws. If instinct is mindless, convention aspires to mindlessness. Bausch, who knows a thing or two about repetition, shows us its effects upon Panadero, who in one scene continues to walk on the balls of her feet as if she were wearing high heels, even though she is barefoot. In another scene, Panadero finds herself in a trance-state, no longer able to scream and flee when Berezin shows her the mouse but still going through the motions silently. Waltzing together Bausch's couples embrace one another half-asleep, and when a party photographer separates them so he can record what ought to be a golden memory they pose next to each other automatically, looking dazed and expressionless. The music is Sibelius' "Valse Triste." "Kontakthof" employs an unequal number of male and female performers, and in this waltzing scene Panadero remains standing alone like a pillar of salt.

No one wants to admit to such failings. Bausch's characters are also fond of smiling (years later, "smiling without a reason" would become a catch-phrase in her piece "Nefés"). Here smiling is a cover-up. In one scene, men who are seated on the floor grin at us as they re-arrange their positions to conceal the women who lie sprawled unconscious behind them. The dance is filled with images of people mysteriously lying prostrate. Then there is the famous parade in which the dancers pass before us performing a sequence of movements brilliantly observed and plucked from everyday life: hand-wringing; twiddling fingers in a gesture that is almost a wave; smoothing the front of a dress or trousers; drawing a finger lazily around an ear; puffing out the cheeks and exhaling in mock frustration. The dancers keep their eyes fixed on us teasingly as they pass by; and their manner is reassuring — -as if the sheer ordinariness of those tics, painstakingly reproduced, were a sign that everything was O.K.

These characters cling to what seems proper and familiar, as if fitting in with the group and obeying the rules could guarantee success. In this view of post-war Germany, the banality of evil has been replaced by the banality of love, and the banality of conforming to society's expectations. Victims of a fusty Romanticism, these people continue to listen as entertainers of the 1930s warble tunes long past their expiration date. Is it really 1978? Instincts remain strong while they offer survival benefits, but conventions, it seems, wear out more quickly.

Alas, Bausch seems to say, neither instinct nor convention can satisfy modern men and women who hope to obtain a personal share of happiness.
Tanztheater Wuppertal in Pina Bausch's 'Kontakthof' - BAM Howard Gilman Opera House Brooklyn, N.Y. October 22, 2014

Tanztheater Wuppertal in Pina Bausch's "Kontakthof" - BAM Howard Gilman Opera House Brooklyn, N.Y. October 22, 2014

Photo © & courtesy of Julieta Cervantes


Tanztheater Wuppertal in Pina Bausch's 'Kontakthof' - BAM Howard Gilman Opera House Brooklyn, N.Y.

Tanztheater Wuppertal in Pina Bausch's "Kontakthof" - BAM Howard Gilman Opera House Brooklyn, N.Y.

Photo © & courtesy of Julieta Cervantes


Tanztheater Wuppertal in Pina Bausch's 'Kontakthof' - BAM Howard Gilman Opera House Brooklyn, N.Y.

Tanztheater Wuppertal in Pina Bausch's "Kontakthof" - BAM Howard Gilman Opera House Brooklyn, N.Y.

Photo © & courtesy of Julieta Cervantes


Tanztheater Wuppertal in Pina Bausch's 'Kontakthof' - BAM Howard Gilman Opera House Brooklyn, N.Y.

Tanztheater Wuppertal in Pina Bausch's "Kontakthof" - BAM Howard Gilman Opera House Brooklyn, N.Y.

Photo © & courtesy of Julieta Cervantes


Tanztheater Wuppertal in Pina Bausch's 'Kontakthof' - BAM Howard Gilman Opera House Brooklyn, N.Y.

Tanztheater Wuppertal in Pina Bausch's "Kontakthof" - BAM Howard Gilman Opera House Brooklyn, N.Y.

Photo © & courtesy of Julieta Cervantes


Tanztheater Wuppertal in Pina Bausch's 'Kontakthof' - BAM Howard Gilman Opera House Brooklyn, N.Y.

Tanztheater Wuppertal in Pina Bausch's "Kontakthof" - BAM Howard Gilman Opera House Brooklyn, N.Y.

Photo © & courtesy of Julieta Cervantes


Tanztheater Wuppertal in Pina Bausch's 'Kontakthof' - BAM Howard Gilman Opera House Brooklyn, N.Y.

Tanztheater Wuppertal in Pina Bausch's "Kontakthof" - BAM Howard Gilman Opera House Brooklyn, N.Y.

Photo © & courtesy of Julieta Cervantes

ExploreDance.com is sponsored by
* **** ****


ExploreDance.com
ExploreDance.com is sponsored by
******* ******
exploredance.com


home || view our calendar || the store || copyright information || join our mailing list || mission statement
Search for articles by
Performance Reviews, Places to Dance, Fashion, Photography, Auditions, Politics, Health