Since She should be a bridge to the future for the contemporary dance company created by the legendary German choreographer Pina Bausch who died ten years ago. Half of the company performs in this new piece devised and choreographed by Dimitris Papaioannou, the other half will be in the other new piece of work to be performed later in the month and devised by Alan Lucien Oyen of the Norwegian Ballet.
Since She opens with the accumulation onstage of much iconic Pina memorabilia. The familiar sapling, harbinger of spring and hope, is heaved up a black foam mountain reminiscent of the deep grave in Viktor. The dancers enter by means of a precarious procession performed on Cafe Mueller chairs. We know whose territory we are in and yet first doubts surface as the entrance procession takes too long and we find ourselves waiting for it to be over.
Yet we are soon shown there’s not much that will be too risky for this very adventurous live show. There’s male nudity with bells on and a female dancer’s head is raised to a demonstrably naked crotch for a while. This does provide a pause for reflection. It’s understood a message is being sent, that this is intended to be a dangerous performance. But danger here has already turned into a sledgehammer male gaze interpretation of the cliff edge of profound menace Pina encouraged her dancers to explore.
There’s risk in taking the possible humiliation of performers too far beyond usual bounds, for art, in a live theatre situation. Concern for a performer, a female performer, may snap the spell of illusion that’s supposed to be being cast. It’s a fine balance. An audience is only prepared to dream along with a creator provided sufficient moral comfort is provided otherwise they revert to the separating knowledge everything is pretend. That’s what happened here.
In her work, Bausch would take us to examine close up by way of the surreal & the mannered the deeply uncomfortable, a gang rape here, a girl used as a water fountain by predatory males there. We would understand these events as complex, as fundamental, as metaphor.
When Bausch described women she juxtaposed female agency with vulnerability. Would show the predatory capability of packs of rogue males as well as tender needs. Bausch looked beneath every surface. Would read the levels of knowing beneath the surface she was showing us. This understanding informed her imagery and choreography and we trusted her as she took to look into the darkest parts of humanity.
No such confidence is perceived with this new work, Since She, rather the opposite. As the show progresses concern grows that shock effects might be being tacked on as an easy way of avoiding appearing ordinary.
Yes, crude humour wins laughter from some in the audience but its slapstick vulgarity raised questions. Ironically it was during the set up of this scene, in the slow banana walk across the stage the compulsive sense of rhythm and dreamlike suspension of time at which Bausch excelled was found, largely missing elsewhere.
It was at this juncture watching slipped into wondering whether a female choreographer might be a better fit to take Bausch’s company forwards. Both of the new works Sadler’s audiences will see this February are choreographed and devised by men.
There were some splendid effects, however. Naked bodies were used to create spectral sculptural forms. Breanna O’Mara is very beautiful and there might have been a hint of the erotic but as something else happened to more props in the row behind a man yawned. There was a mesmerising surreal dancer moving across the stage in a swaying, pentagonal bamboo cage but the simultaneous act of sticking garden canes into the dress of a dancer was underwhelming and took much too long. From the reviewers’ section of the stalls, we could see these sticks were being inserted into loops in her dress and the whole thing seemed utterly pointless.
There was an over-dependence on nudity and props at the expense of the rhythm and articulation of choreography. The music was not inspirational, often there was silence, Air on a G String was played a few times.
Emotions were not moved, the choreography did not inspire, it was anyway hard to make out the movements of the male dancers dressed in black (unless they were nude) against the darkness of the set. Perhaps this was intentional.
The work was one of shadows, the tributes to Bausch appearing as echoes, her dancers were not stretched in pace and tone as we have seen them be before despite their immense physical and emotional bravery on stage. For all the action we saw the repeated question was, Why? What for? in response there was only silence.
For Bausch aficionados, it is poignant to see Tanztheater Wuppertal begin to move away from their iconic creator whose work has nourished them and us in the ten years since her death. It is right they try and it was bound to be hard. Bausch’s choreographed work remains indelible but her wonderful company of performers is a living legacy and uniquely nourished by her genius as they are it is certain we have much to look forwards to. There needs to be risk on the way.
Would this work stand alone for those who don’t know anything about Pina Bausch? Probably not.
Review by Marian Kennedy
The unmistakable style of Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch was forged over decades performing Pina Bausch’s huge catalogue of extraordinary work. Following the choreographer’s death in 2009, the company are now ready to embark on the expansion of this hallowed repertoire.
In an exchange of firsts, Since She marks the creation of the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch’s first full-length work by a guest choreographer, while also being the first work that Greek choreographer Dimitris Papaioannou has created outside of his own company.
Trained as a visual artist, the author of over 40 comic books, and the creative director of the 2004 Olympic Opening Ceremony in Athens, Papaionannou’s work is renowned for its dream-like atmosphere, inhabited by a circus of contorted and absurd creatures.
Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch — Since She – Dimitris Papaioannou
14 – 17 Feb 2019
Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R