nº61 / PINA BAUSCH / KONTAKTHOF / SADLER'S WELLS / LONDON
Her bleak vision changed the face of European dance. Like it, hate it, but there is no denial that anything is created by Pina Bausch is ART. The revival of the 1978s creation Kontakthof comes back to Sadler’s Wells, London.
Review by Zoltan Alexander
Kontakthof by Pina Bausch / Trailer © video created by Zoltan Alexander ZOLTAN+MEDIA
"DARLING … DARLING, IS IT PAIN OR PLEASURE?"
Pina Bausch is probably the longest relationship in my life.
Love, passion, fights and divorces (caused by her death in 2009). Our story conquered many countries over the years. Our home was the Theatre de la Ville in Paris. It is probably one of those love stories when the other party could do anything, wrong or right, yet you would still love that person unconditionally. No matter what. Or really?
First, let’s go back in time. No, not to the 1930s when the piece is set, nor to 1978 when Kontakthof was created. Back to 2010, London.
Tanztheater Wuppertal staged Kontakthof back in 2010 with two different casts: one created with senior dancers over 65, the other made up of juniors, with a revelatory statement that AGE IS POWER. At my age, I could only second that.
The performances were filled with unseen intimacy of older people and the tender confusion of adolescence and the anxiety of their youthful encounters.
The differences were, however, intriguing. Unsurprisingly, these young bodies, dressed in formal evening wear, inhabited a very different physical appearance with much sharper movements whilst the senior version focused more on the sense of time and deep, human emotions. They were able to bring a more knowledgeable, tender life to their performance. What is remarkable is that Bausch widely exposed our ageist society that is becoming much worse as time goes by. These seniors gave an example that with age we do not become grey and invisible but much alive and daring.
In the 2022 version of Kontakthof, even though the cast was strong and all the details were in place, the performance was lacking the soul, compassion, the much-anticipated tension. Bausch’s spirit and her principal dancers such as the sublime and powerful Julie Shanahan or the irresistibly funny Nazareth Panadero were terrible missed, especially for those who have seen Kontakthof in earlier years. Sadly, the everlasting, three-hour performance turned out to be rather flat.
The key concept for Pina Bausch is her repetitive movements, filled with humour, irony, sarcasm and absurdities that we much enjoy seeing over and over again, however, the dancers, in this version, just did know how to stop. Having an interval in the middle of the performance certainly did not help the rhythm nor my enthusiasm. Some people left, which is utterly unheard of for Pina Bausch when the evenings were a total sold-out.
But let’s look at the performance closer.
Kontakhof / © video Courtesy of Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal
Music score by Juan Llossas Frühling und Sonnenschein
“I’m not interested in how people move, but what moves them” Pina Bausch
The scene opens up to a dance hall with empty black chairs in a row in front of a small stage, a piano and a coin-operated automated hobby horse. (Sets and costumes originally created by Rolf Borzik, who died at the age of just 35). Then a large group of charismatic dancers enter in a wide range of ages, shapes and sizes, 11 men, 11 women, and take their seats. The mood is grim, the movements are strict and repetitive, somewhat very German, but nonetheless mesmerising. The dancers torment and flirt with each other against Juan Llossas’s 1930s tango played throughout the entire production. Women in stilettos wear colourful, sleek, silk dresses accompanied by men in slightly badly-cut suits & ties, but the glamour becomes irrelevant when the humiliation and falls start.
The dancers come forward and fall, then stand up again, mock around, strip naked and twirl their hair in gorgeous tornadoes. Identical gestures and movements push repetition beyond comfort, stripping their meaning until their initial significance becomes an illusion. The dancers walk across the stage, repeatedly in a furious, frustrating and hypnotic manner with occasional animal-like fights of teeth, face, posture… tits and arse. They shout “Front! Sideways! Smile! Teeth! Hands!”
Kontakthof evokes controversial feelings and reception. How do people really meet? Have you ever wondered? The audience, as well as the dancers, replicate on stage, living through our worst moments, longing and misguided desires. The dancers play out first encounters, multipart courtship rituals, needs, perversion, struggles, messy, unpredictable romances and imperfect yet irresistibly unavailable connections. It is a power struggle, a battle of sexes that is present beneath and beyond our skin.
“We keep seeking out approval, attention and love from all the other equally strange human beings who are doing their own version of these weird and never-ending tasks.”
Bausch is particularly good at picking out those small details of human fragility making them ironic and banal. It is a multilayer of unpredictable montages of scenes, strung together by free association.
In one of the scenes, dancers are seated in a row and a cacophony of dialogues develop in a multitude of languages with a lot of exaggerated facial gestures, all recorded by a Russian moderator. Gestures, words and feelings are madly juxtaposed, and the dance becomes an influential piece of performance art that has been keeping us on the edge for years.
Sex is almost always present at Pina Bausch, accompanied by bursts of violence, kisses that morph into bites and slaps with humiliation. No wonder that women, once they have begged a small change from the front row audience, are queuing to get their somewhat joyful sexual thrills or sometimes joyless encounters on a vintage, coin-operated hobby horse.
"Kontakhof" with Nazareth Panadero / © video Courtesy of Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal
Bausch with Kontakthof doesn’t aim to be pretty nor politically correct. In the second half of the performance, she stages a woman (used to be played by Nazareth Panadero) being manipulated, touched, abused and humiliated by all eleven men while she remains impassive. Bausch is witnessing our obsessiveness and pointless aggression and highlights issues of sexism, abuse, ageism, racism and cultural appropriation. She was definitely years ahead of her time in 1978. However, the scene was lacking the fragility and torment initially played by Nazareth's performance.
After the intermission, instead of finding the rhythm, the piece loses its potency. A projector is brought onstage, the dancers grab their chairs and take a seat in a strict line, turning their backs to us. We are suddenly in a cinema with the dancers watching a super-badly filmed super-8 film on wildlife and ducks’ mating rituals. It is rather amusing and could have been humorous for a second but the film went on for another quarter of an hour, highly over-stressing our patience to sit it through.
The performance finally ends with the signature Pina-Bausch-walk over the haunting music of “Frühling und Sonnenschein”. The dancers move in a circle proudly mimicking the actions of the person behind and ahead. Very powerful, very German, brutal and tender at the same time. That moment Bausch comes back in spirit.
Having said that, no matter what Pina Bausch does, it is ART. Pina Bausch lives after Pina Bausch, maybe not so well in this revival but she does. That is how it is possible to love the choreographer’s work and dislike the performance.
Photo-montage by Zoltan Alexander
© Courtesy of ZOLTAN+MEDIA
Photo © Courtesy of Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal
Video created by Zoltan Alexander
© Courtesy of ZOLTAN+MEDIA
3 - 6 February 2022
Tickets: £15 - £75 / strict safety rules apply