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INTERVIEW

WORKING WITH PINA BAUSCH

 

Pina Bausch: Vollmond
Photo: Laurent Philippe

 

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 16 OCTOBER 2007— Pina Bausch, choreographer and director of Tanztheater Wuppertal, was born in Soligen, Germany in 1941. But nothing predestined the young girl, whose parents ran a restaurant, to become one of the most influential figures on the European dance scene. She didn't begin to study dance until the age of 15, and it cannot have been pure chance that she attended the Folkwangschule of Essen where the dance department was run by Kurt Jooss. Jooss was one of the earliest choreographers to use contemporary events to produce theatrical ballets such as The Green Table, a virulently anti-war piece. Under his watchful eye, she also studied music, drama, and the visual arts and after obtaining a grant some four years later, she left for New York where she studied at the Juilliard School. She subsequently joined the Metropolitan Opera Ballet where the artistic director was Antony Tudor, one of the greatest choreographers of the 20th century who became famous for his psychological ballets which concentrated on the emotional turmoil of ordinary men and women.

However, not only did she choose the finest teachers for what she developed into her particular style of dance-theatre, but after she began creating her own works from 1968, she began to look around for the interpreters and collaborators she would later work with. From the beginning, she surrounded herself with all the right people for her highly imaginative, theatrical productions, several of which also happen to be miracles of choreographic invention. And it is not only that all her collaborators, such as Peter Pabst, her designer, and Dominique Mercy the dancer most closely associated with almost all of her creations, are top-notch. They also happen to be very special people.


Pina Bausch: Vollmond
Photo: Laurent Philippe

While the troupe was in Paris for a three-week period, presenting Bandonéon, her controversial 1980 piece, followed by her magnificent 2006 creation, Vollmond, I spoke to Frenchman Dominique Mercy, now 56, the dancer who has been at her side since she formed her company in 1973. He's friendly, disarming and luminous and there's a lot of laughter in a conversation with him. He's the sort of person who can make you feel lighter of heart just because you've spoken to him. That he adores Pina Bausch is evident; all her company does. "Of course she's unique!" he exclaimed when we met at the Theatre de la Ville. "What she was doing in 1968 when I was part of the Ballet Theatre Contemporain, was already extraordinary. She was a fabulous dancer and her work simply mesmerised me. We met in the U.S, at the Saratoga Summer Academy where I saw her dance a very beautiful solo of her own. I was overwhelmed by the quality of movement and the very special atmosphere which permeated her choreography. She told me about a project she had in mind and asked me, should it come about, whether I would like to work with her. And then, returning to France, I couldn't get this incredible woman out of my mind; something within me had changed after meeting her, and, thanks heaven," he laughed, "she contacted me in 1973 and I immediately left to join her in Wuppertal. I recognised something inevitable, a feeling of having found my place."

At that moment, we were joined by Silvia Farias, the beautiful Argentinean dancer, who, at 24, is one of the youngest members of the company and who has been with Bausch since March, 2000. She immediately echoed Dominique Mercy's words, adding that she just could not believe her immense good fortune the day she was hired by Bausch after a spontaneous audition at the Theatre de la Ville.

"Pina Bausch has always impressed me deeply", she said. "She has an incredible effect on people that mere words can't describe. Her work is so moving and she has so much to say about everything and yet is open to new ideas. What is so very special is that besides the dancers, she involves the spectators. She makes them feel that she's spoken to them personally and that they have had a private conversation with her. I've watched audiences and they laugh and then cry, but, like us, Pina doesn't push them into anything. They are free to interpret things they see, and each person's reaction is often completely different from the person sitting next to them."


Pina Bausch: Vollmond
Photo: Laurent Philippe

Besides his stature of dancer within the Tanztheater, Dominique Mercy, who was himself trained in Bordeaux, also teaches at the Folkwangschule academy where Sylvia Farias studied. He emphasised that he was not Bausch's assistant as such although he was one of the people responsible for the sublime restaging of Orpheus and Eurydice at the Paris Opéra two years ago.

"Pina is her own decider as regards the creative process", he said. "She might try out ideas on us and then watch to see how we react, but no one would interfere with her work. What is particularly remarkable is her unique way of making you discover what there is within yourself. I've seen that time and again. She has something which makes each dancer go further than they ever thought they could, and yet she achieves this effortlessly, without ever pushing."

Members of the company who are all ages, sizes, heights and cultures, have something of their own to offer. They dance with their hearts and souls as much as bodies. Mercy commented that perhaps there was a certain chemistry amongst the troupe and that they all felt that each time they danced on stage it was like the first time and the last. Nothing ever became routine.


Pina Bausch: Vollmond
Photo: Laurent Philippe

"We are the most authentic we can be", the dancer said. "Of course, Pina is looking for something and we all have our roles, but she sees her work as a whole; no one piece is isolated, nor is it ever danced and then discarded. She nourishes us from the repertory and the work is kept alive. The elements are and always have been central in her creations and she has used fire, air and of course, water, present in many ballets We can't live without them and it's normal they find their place on stage. And in a courteous reply to one British critic who wrote that Pina's "obsession" with water must have been because she was born in the Sahara, he acknowledged that indeed she may well have been, the Pearl of the Sahara."

Referring to Vollmond, the piece currently being presented in Paris to rave reviews and wildly enthusiastic audiences, Sylvia Farias said that dancing on the wet stage was one of the most tremendous experiences of her career, and that since the première of the work, the moment it began to rain, she would rush outside to hold her face up to the raindrops.

But she wasn't merely dancing under a shower. There was deluge of water down onto the stage of the theatre as well as a river flowing across where the dancers were swimming. They danced in water, under water, and whenever they could, seized whole bucketfuls which they threw in high curving arcs in the sky which glistened with myriad colors, catching and holding the lights. In Vollmond, the clouds open, but the work is dominated by pure dance.

It is a very physical piece, inhabited by a sense of urgency, but one's imagination is caught and held right from the beginning by a lovely girl with long dark hair, Sylvia Farias. Dressed in pink, she performs an extremely beautiful solo, one of many in the work which demonstrate Bausch's increasing interest in movement. Two superb young male dancers arrive and perform solos and then an intricate duet which prepares us for an evening where dance reigns supreme.

"Pina is almost always in the wings during a performance", said Dominique Mercy. "I like to know she's there". One suspects that the feeling is reciprocal.

Patricia Boccadoro is dance editor at Culturekiosque.com

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