Did you enjoy it? Not much.
Did you admire it? Yes.
The energy of the movement on stage. The talent and charisma of the new young dancers. Only the two central characters are ‘familiars’ part of the company when Bausch died. (This is her modern legacy.) The work’s contemporary themes interrogating an individual’s capacity for control in society, the subjugation of women and the immolation that’s controlling, surrendering obsessive need dressed as love.
And yet Bluebeard was devised by Pina Bausch in 1977. She understood us before we knew ourselves, the issues in society, between the sexes we are continuing to wrestle with almost half a century later. Why are we still behaving like this? Are we doomed to repetition? Bausch draws the issues in her choreography, the characters on stage. Part-way through the production, the house lights come up, we are required to look at ourselves.
The set is an austere apartment. Bluebeard hid three past wives behind one of seven doors and they appear. There’s a group of eleven female dancers often moving as one around the stage, sometimes hanging off walls. There’s an equivalent group of men, sometimes downcast in procession in darks suits, sometimes absurdly proud of themselves in ridiculous, crushed velvet underwear. We are invited to inspect illusions. The sexes rarely match the mood. Wildness and excess, violence and hurt, sex, resistance and dominance are described. Bluebeard and his current wife Judith remain connected no matter how many others are placed on stage between them.
There’s a deluge of sound in the production, not only extracts of Bartok’s opera Bluebeard played by him as if he is stopping and starting a tape recorder. There’s wild laughter, wailing, the rustling of bare feet through the dead leaves scattered over the stage.
And there are unforgettable scenes. A woman as a predatory sexual spider determined to mate. Women rolling in leaves as if they are creatures emerging from the depths of the earth. There are processions, selections. A group of eleven women, moving as if a single entity, playing a seductive version of the children’s game, Grandmother’s footsteps, with Bluebeard. Dressed for much of the time in the exotic costumes of an opera gone wrong.
Like the set the costumes were designed by Rolf Borzik, he died in 1980. This is Bluebeard which comes hurtling from the past to be daring, subversive and exciting all over again in 2020.
You may not enjoy it, emotional darkness haunts the production even where lightness is pretended, but if you admire Pina Bausch’s work, Tanztheater Wuppertal, if you are interested in contemporary dance, you must see this.
Review by Marian Kennedy
Never before performed in the UK, Pina Bausch’s early masterpiece is now being revived by her company after an absence from their repertoire of over 25 years.
On a stage covered with the crunch of autumnal leaves, a man compulsively plays and replays a tape recording of Béla Bartók’s short opera about Bluebeard and his relentlessly inquisitive wife, Judith.
In a new restaging led by Helena Pikon and Barbara Kaufmann, the original cast member Jan Minarik and Beatrice Libonati, the dancers return to this clashing world of men and women, taboos and transgressions.
Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch — Bluebeard. While Listening to a Tape Recording of Béla Bartók’s “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle”
Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R
12 – 15 February 2020