Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal-Zellerbach Hall

Very few choreographers surprise me and hardly any ever shock me. If anything, most are predictable and have developed a signature movement style that permeates their repertoire. I am sure that this generalization offends many choreographers, but even they have to concede that although it may be insulting, it is accurate. Few have the gumption and wherewithal to venture outside of their comfort zone.

Thankfully, Pina Bausch is not one of the complacent. Her recent West Coast showing of Ten Chi (2004) illustrates her commitment to artistic exploration, and represents a tangible stylistic departure from most of her work. Bausch dance-theater compositions tend toward movement themes of purposeful, repeated violence, forcing the audience to witness the dark side of civilization and the selfishness of the soul. Usually, Bausch makes no attempt to wrap these difficult concepts in pretty and manageable packages. Rather, untamed cruelty and ferocious rage are so palpable in her work that they leap from the stage, startling and strangling the audience with their brutality.

Ten Chi was different and had an overall sense of composure in its choreography, text, and staging. It was the exact opposite of what I was expecting from this famously controversial choreographer. Both ballet and modern sequences were incorporated into the work amid falling snow and the tranquility of water. The disconnectedness that often occurs when dancers are expected to perform both genres was absent and was replaced by smooth transitions. Serene, graceful movements were coupled with angular, pedestrian motions fluidly and seamlessly. Of course, not every moment in the piece was calm and tranquil, but there was no bottled rage or erupting violence.

However, it is important not to confuse the visual serenity of this work with a message of happiness, joy and light. There was a deeper significance concealed in the repose: the dichotomy between what you want and what you get. This was readily apparent at the beginning of Act II with a creative pas de deux between two women. One dancer was trying to pose in particular styles and the other kept re-positioning her in different postures. This conversation occurred without any text, but the hidden tug-of-war was obvious. Desire may never be realized. This message may not have been steeped in Bausch’s usual angry choreography, but it was quietly disturbing. The comprehension that wishes are not real is sad.

Consequently, not everything about Ten Chi was completely atypical of Bausch. She still examined a very serious, depressing concept. But, how she dealt with it was different-instead of unadulterated viciousness, we saw quiet, internal turmoil. This is what should be taken away from the piece. Pina Bausch explored the complexity of ‘wish versus reality’ from a very different perspective. Rather than her usual aggression, we saw a touchingly sad machination of her narrative. It is incredibly brave to believe that you can successfully create through different methodology. It is this bravery in approach that makes her a choreographer to emulate.

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