Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Tanztheater Wuppertal

Photo by : Bettina Stoß
Cal Performances presents
Pina Bausch's "Danzón"
Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley
December 3, 2011

Appearing at Cal Performances for the first time since Pina Bausch's sudden passing in 2009, Tanztheater Wuppertal brought her brilliant and somewhat light-hearted 1995 work "Danzón" to the Berkeley stages last weekend.  While chronicling the journey that humanity travels in the space between birth and death, Bausch's legacy, drive and creativity lives on.  She pushed boundaries like no one else and had an unmatched ability to juxtapose text, dance and design all in service of her chosen narrative.  As we soon bid a bittersweet farewell to one of the foremost modern dance companies, it is wonderful that Tanztheater Wuppertal continues to share the magic of Bausch dance-theater.

The various stages of life were beautifully represented through Bausch's blend of drama, humor and absurdity.  The opening images gave us birth as a grown man (dressed as a baby in an oversized diaper) crawls across the stage.  First love unfolded in the seesaw scene, and the women used oranges to learn how to kiss.  An abundance of journey/travel symbols were used as props (bags and suitcases) and when one part of the set briefly and purposely burst into flames, Bausch was commenting on unexpected challenges.  The final moments brought us to the end of life with a lengthy grave scene. 

The choreography closely followed the central theme by employing movements that were about motion and going somewhere.  The first duet danced by two women in white introduced a swimming motif, which recurred several times throughout the two-hour piece.  Bausch was also able to incorporate the notion that in life, we sometimes make decisions of our own accord and sometimes are aided by others.  The pas de trois mid-way through "Danzón" showed a woman being tenderly lifted and assisted as she made her way through the space.  And, the final leg of the trip gave a stunning visual as to how we can approach death.  Here, one female dancer gently stepped onto the foot of her male partner, and then, he turned her ever so slightly into a lovely attitude derrière.  They repeated this short sequence from upstage right to downstage left and you could feel the calm and support as she reached her final destination.

Danzón" definitely feels lighter than many Bausch works, at least in terms of the often present violence and brutality.  Having said that, there were some obvious Bausch-isms that sang from Zellerbach Hall's stage last Saturday.  Many Bausch ballets examine the relationship between men and women from a dark perspective, specifically men's aggression toward women and women's humiliation of men.  Though dialed down quite a bit for "Danzón", both were present.  As a woman lay facedown on a massage table, her experience quickly moved from relaxing to forceful, as several men pulled and manipulated her body while she maintained a completely passive position.  In another scene, the women sat still in chairs, smiling menacingly, as the men crawled around the stage and laid their heads on the women's knees clearly seeking approval and affection.  In addition, "Danzón" contained Pina's trademark absurdist moments; the funniest one being a tent scene where the cast was assembled listening to stories and jokes, almost like a camping trip.  Then, all of a sudden, the peace and tranquility was interrupted by a disco/belly dancing performance complete with a soap box and a rubber snake.  

From a structural perspective, "Danzón" is my favorite Bausch composition (at least from what I have seen thus far).  Diverse scenework (events expressed through text and mime) was infused with varying dance vignettes (Cuban, ballet, character, partnering, lyrical and contemporary).  Many of these dance portions happened in isolation, and though separate, were still able to extrapolate the narrative and move the story forward.  The result of these 'separate' dance sequences was a marked clarity of purpose.  Much dance theater throws everything on the stage at once, producing a saturated and chaotic frenzy.  "Danzón" still had its share of bedlam but with this structural specificity, the audience was able to experience the choreography itself and really see the advanced technical level of the dancers.  They were out there on their own, vulnerably sharing each and every movement, revealing the narrative through their physical abandon.

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