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PINA BAUSCH BRAVES THE UNDERWORLD

 

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 30 MARCH 2012 — Pina Bausch’s danced opera, Orpheus and Eurydice, created for the Tanztheater Wuppertal in 1975, which entered into the repertoire of the Paris Opéra Ballet six years ago, is one of the masterpieces of twentieth century dance. Inspired by the score of Gluck’s magnificent opera, the German choreographer has furthered the composer’s artistic quest by illuminating the music with her dance and spectacular staging. She has created something new and timeless on the myth of the grief-stricken musician who braved the darkness of the Underworld to rescue his young wife, dead from a snakebite on the day of her wedding.

The work, sung in German, is divided into four tableaux and opens upon Mourning. Rolf Borzik, Bausch’s companion on and offstage, created a stark but highly effective décor of a room with high, white walls, where an uprooted tree stripped of its leaves, symbolizes death. A group of women in black sweep across the stage in long, fluid, semi-transparent dresses, lamenting, their movements almost in slow-motion as if time had stopped still while Eurydice is sitting motionless on high, her long white train representing either a shroud or bridal gown. Her wedding bouquet is a violent splash of scarlet in a world bereft of colour. But the austere atmosphere lightens with the arrival of Love, whom the Gods have authorized to lead Orpheus into the Underworld to bring back his bride.


Pina Bausch: Orpheus and Eurydice
Paris Opera Ballet
Photo: Agathe Poupeney

The pessimism of the second tableaux, Violence is intensified by the arrival of three male dancers symbolizing Cerberus, the three-headed dog, frightening in their long, leather aprons as they stride amongst the Furies, those lost souls who stumble along blindly, eyes closed, pulling threads. The tension drops in the divine third tableau, Peace. Dressed in beautiful, soft, peach coloured dresses underlining their femininity and grace, the women here were exquisite with their large, generous, sweeping movements while  the choreography where every gesture followed the score, touched perfection. This was indeed a glimpse of a heavenly paradise.


Pina Bausch: Orpheus and Eurydice
Paris Opera Ballet
Photo: Agathe Poupeney

Red, the colour of passion, dominated the sensational final tableau, Death. Here there is only emptiness, with grey walls and a scattering of dead leaves at the back of the stage as Eurydice, gradually losing trust in Orpheus when he does not look at her, implores him to turn around and gaze at her.

The work began as it ended, with the choir lamenting, and with each role being doubled by a singer on stage. Both the contralto, Maria Riccarda Wesseling, taking up the role of Orpheus she created in Paris 6 years ago, and the sopranos, Yun Jung Choi and Zoe Nicolaidou, Eurydice and Amour respectively, were dressed in black, and remained discreetly on stage next to the dancer, thus bringing song and dance ever closer. All three singers were sublime.


Pina Bausch: Orpheus and Eurydice
Paris Opera Ballet
Photo: Agathe Poupeney

 Muriel Zusperreguy, light and lovely, was an adorable Amour, Stéphane Bullion was a sculptural, handsome Orpheus, heavy with sorrow in the first acts, but strangely, more absent emotionally in the final act, leaving centre stage to Marie-Agnès Gillot, intense, moving and magnificent as Eurydice. The tragedy gradually unfolded with each movement of her sinuous, long curving arms as she implored reassurance from her mortal husband, begging him to turn towards her, even the merest glance, until the inevitable happens, and she collapses on top of the soprano. Gillot, who had worked with Pina Bausch herself for many years, gave a stupendous performance. One could even believe in the presence of the German choreographer in the wings, as was the case in the two previous stagings of the ballet.


Pina Bausch: Orpheus and Eurydice
Paris Opera Ballet
Photo: Agathe Poupeney

However, both Dominique Mercy, who created the role of Orpheus in 1975, and Malou Airaudo, his Eurydice, were present, as were Josephine-Ann Endicott, who, together with Mercy and Airaudo had joined Pina Bausch in 1973. Rehearsals were also given by Mariko Aoyama who joined the Wuppertal troupe as both dancer and assistant to Bausch as well as by Bénédicte Billiet, archivist of the company. It was thus hardly surprising to see such a fabulous production, while the majority of the women present in the corps de ballet, each more beautiful than the next, were familiar with the choreographer’s way of working. Moreover, nothing had been left to chance; the Wuppertal team first came to work with the dancers in December, returning for over a month in January and February.

This was a sumptuous production in every way and a work in which Pina Bausch’s mark became established, not only in the long, flowing dresses which became the company’s trademark, but in the theme close to her heart, less pessimistic than it seems, that without trust there is nothing. One must be steadfast and unwavering in love.

The Balthasar-Neumann Ensemble and choir were magnificently conducted by Manlio Benzi.

Headline image: Pina Bausch: Orpheus and Eurydice
Paris Opera Ballet
Photo: Agathe Poupeney

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.

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