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Merilyn Jackson
Performance Reviews
Brooklyn Academy of Music

Pina Bausch at BAM

by Merilyn Jackson
November 22, 2004
Brooklyn Academy of Music
30 Lafayette Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11217
(718) 636-4111

Pina Bausch at BAM


Brooklyn Academy of Music
Brooklyn, NY

Merilyn Jackson
November 22, 2004

As yet unrivaled as the doyenne of the dance world, Pina Bausch brought her 2002 Für die Kinder (For the Children of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow) to Brooklyn Academy of Music last week. Since its first appearance there in 1984, her Tanztheater Wuppertal has made of BAM a kind of second home, appearing there with a new full-length dance theater work almost every other year.

Despite the adoring throngs that pack her shows, Bausch's work is not for everyone, not even all critics. The New York Post's Clive Barnes, called her a fake - an empress without clothes. Clearly, he did not connect with the show and does not have much love for Bausch.

He is not the first critic I know who dislikes her work. Once, in a Phoenix, Arizona theater the night after her huge project Nur Du opened in 1996, I eavesdropped on a music critic who'd seemed to have the misfortune of having to go up to San Francisco to interview Bausch for a preview article in the local daily. "Thank god, I didn't have to go again last night to review," he said. "Having to see it once was enough."

"Oh gee," I said, turning to him. "Do you get all of the connotations and nuances of a new work of music the first time you hear it? Do you need to see a great painting only once? Have you never opened a book that you couldn't stand to read five years earlier and suddenly loved it?"

It's the same with Bausch, or for that matter any contemporary artist who seeks to engage with the audience at their deepest, most human levels. You may have to see a work many times to begin to see the relationships between the sections and it helps to have seen Bausch's work over time. You see how movements are recast, for instance. In the 1985 Two Cigarettes in the Dark, there is hilarious ensemble dancing with couples rolling around the floor on their hind parts. In Kinder, there is an equally irreverent and referent section, but this time the buttocks barely touch the floor as the hands and feet propel the face-up bodies forward in repetitive movements. It is wonderful to see dancers make fun of themselves in this way, but Bausch familiars can easily feel that she has also just shared an inside joke with them. In her rare interviews, she says that she works from the inside out. And that is where she and her dancers get you. Inside.

Kinder's women are all dressed in adult party gowns by Marion Cito that hang only by a thread from the shoulders. Bausch and company based Kinder's theatrical conceits on childhood games, fears, belittlements, triumphs and stubbornness. We recognize our vicious little selves when two dancers dare each other to see who can hold a finger over an open flame the longest. Or glimpse our most literal selves when one woman draws a valentine heart with an arrow through it, and another draws a more realistic one, ventricles, valves and all. Azusa Seyama revealed to us our dreamiest of selves when she drifted through the air on the arm of her partner, arms and legs splayed out behind her. And 30-year Wuppertaler, Dominique Mercy, drew us into an agonizing dance of adolescent self-hatred, flinging himself this way and that like a rag doll.

Mercy has been with Bausch since the beginning (1974) and is more than ever the source of many elements the other dancers can spin off - danger, cluelessness, and silliness. At one point, he comes out bare-chested and barelegged in a giant pouf of white netting, seemingly blown forward by a dancer behind him. Not to compare him to Chaplin, but Mercy's persona is just as original and enduring.

It was Andrej Berezin's rooted-to-the-floor dance that was most Chaplinesque and endearing. For several minutes, he stood in place, mesmerizing the audience as if he were just one-on-one with each of them, creasing his pants, eloquently rolling his fingers as if winding a chain around them, and tapping his chest, shoulders and so on in sequence repeatedly in a compelling tour-de-force for the arms.

Veterans Nazareth Panadero, Helena Pikon and Julie Anne Stanzak were vintage Bauschian drop-dead beauties and their hair is still a major leitmotif in Bausch's works. When joined by newer company members, the diminutive Ditta Miranda Jasfi and Melanie Maurin all brushing their hair with large floor brushes, they gave off a menacing allure.

Long-time Bausch associate and collaborator, Peter Pabst, designed the outsized stark white set that dwarfed the dancers as if they were children. At times, the walls and ceiling danced nightmarishly around them forming odd angles or a hall of arches for the dancers to disappear through.

Powerful solos by Rainer Behr and Jorge Puerta Armenta peppered the work, but I much preferred the choreography in the larger ensemble sections and duets.

As with all her pieces, Bausch's musical compilations, here by Matthias Burkert and Andreas Eisenschneider, are drawn from dozens of sources from around the world and sometimes repeated in different versions. Nur Du had 34 song sources, Für die Kinder 24. I am beginning to notice a favorite of mine, Nina Simone, in a number of Bausch's works. It's satisfying to guess at the affinities and inspirations of artists as complex and perplexing as Bausch and her Wuppertalers and a reason to see them even if they make you uncomfortable.

Pina Bausch at BAM
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Berger

Pina Bausch at BAM
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Berger

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