Death is a recurring theme in Viktor, whose title character does not appear on stage as much as the show’s title would suggest. In the course of over three hours, there are almost inevitable ebbs and flows. I was also left a little puzzled as to what the significance of certain scenes was supposed to be, and if there is anything between the lines that should be read into, for example, a man in suit running pieces of wood through a sawing bench, or a lady running on to the stage, saying ‘Good evening’, before glancing at her watch and swiftly running off again. Or quite why bread rolls were fed to the front stalls but we in the ‘first circle’ went without. Not that I’m bitter or anything.
The oddness and eccentricity of proceedings was strangely compelling – at one point the audience watches people washing themselves, and at several points, a large number of items are auctioned, including a Yorkshire terrier ‘sold’ for £300. It’s a sure-fire way of eliciting a collective ‘aah’ – put three dogs on stage and give each of them a moment in the spotlight.
Most bizarre, and nonetheless amusing, is the marrying of two corpses – the registrar puts a ring on the relevant finger himself, and then positions the bodies in such a way so the groom kisses the bride after all to close the ‘ceremony’. It does happen, however – posthumous marriage in France is possible, apparently mainly to ‘legitimise’ a child born out of wedlock.
Anyway, a little like West Side Story, some of the music is upbeat but the narrative supporting it is rather less so. This is best demonstrated in the frenetic work activity, as opposed to beautiful dancing, that accompanies a famed piece of classical music. That’s not to say there isn’t beautiful dancing – that is present in abundance, from a single ballerina to full ensemble pieces. Elsewhere, a woman is asked to position her legs up in the air, and a man then slaps her behind. When in Rome (where the storyline is based) and all that. Still, random at best, disturbing at worst.
There are dancers who have said to my face that they smoke as it helps them with weight control. I don’t know if any who fall into that category are in this production, but if so, they must feel blessed to be in a show that features cigarettes. I liked a mischievous character who kept taking the cigarette out of the hand of either half of a couple kissing in the street, sneaking a puff (or two or three) and replacing the said cigarette, each time unnoticed.
Having seen some productions in recent months where scenes were played out so swiftly that the show as a whole came across as lacking depth, I have no complaints, really, about scenarios being portrayed as comprehensively as they are in Viktor. Others may deem one or two scenes a tad too repetitive. The show ends with a reprise of the earliest scenes, leaving me wondering quite how much of what we’ve already seen was to be repeated. Some of the choreography comes across as straightforward – I suspect it’s more complicated than it looks. It’s definitely a success in that regard.
It’s surreal, but it’s perfectly executed and a delight to witness.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Viktor, created by the endlessly inventive Pina Bausch, returns to Sadler’s Wells from Thursday 8 – Sunday 11 February. The piece, an international co-production with Teatro Argentino and the City of Rome, is performed by the legendary Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, a Sadler’s Wells International Associate Company.
In 1986, the city of Rome invited Pina Bausch and her company to make a piece inspired by the Eternal City. Viktor turned out to be the first of Pina Bausch’s epic travelogues, a series which took her company around the world for inspiration-gathering residencies. Living in each city for a period of time, her renowned company would then return to Wuppertal to create a new work inspired by their visit. The piece has previously been performed at Sadler’s Wells in 1999 and again as part of the World Cities series in 2012.
Deep in the muddy depths of a grave which is still being dug, a corpse couple are united in a macabre marriage and a woman is transformed into a water fountain. Viktor is set to music which spans centuries and continents: folk music from Italy, waltzes from Russia and dance music from the Middle Ages to the 1930s. Pina Bausch directed and choreographed Viktor, with set designs by Peter Pabst, costume designs by Marion Cito and music in collaboration with Matthias Burkert.