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Culture

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La mort de la chorégraphe allemande Pina Bausch

by Vincent Dieutre

The Death of the German Choreographer Pina Bausch

Translated Wednesday 1 July 2009, by Henry Crapo

The German dancer and choreographer died at the age of 68. The announcement was made by the Dance Theater of Wuppertal [1], which was her base.

The German dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch, who died on Tuesday at the age of 68, is considered not only a great figure of German expressionist dance, but also as one of the greatest contemporary choreographers.

Born in Solingen, in North Rhine / Westphalia on 27 July, 1940, Pina Bausch grew up in the universe of the little hotel-restaurant run by her parents.
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At the age of 14 she entered the Folkwang school in Essen directed by Kurt Jooss, one of the founders of the Expressionist Dance [2], which combines movement, music, and elements of the dramatic arts. She left the school with her diploma in 1958.

Pina Bausch continued her dance training from 1959 to 1962 at the Juilliard School of Music [3] with prestigious professors including Anthony Tudor, Jose Limon and Mary Hinkson. She obtained professional engagements at the New American Ballet and at the New York Metropolitan Opera.

On her return from the United States, she became a member of the new Ballet Folkwang, and in 1968 completed her first choreographic work, Fragment, to music by the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok.

One year later, she became their artistic director, in addition to her work as choreographer and dancer.

Since 1973, Pina Bausch has directed the ballet company Tanztheater Wuppertal, which has had an immense international success. Wuppertal is located in the industrial basin of the Ruhr valley.

Frequently invited to other countries to produce her work, she was regularly present at the Théâtre de la Ville, in Paris, these past 30 years, where she invariably performed to a full house.

In 1998, Pina Bausch organized for the first time a Wuppertal Festival [4] with her friends and artists from around the world, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of her dance company.

A bit to the side of her usual creative work, Pina Bausch accepted a role in the film Et vogue le navire [5] by the Italian film director Federico Fellini, and repeated this experience in the full-length film Parle avec elle [6] by the Spanish director Pedro Almodovar in 2001. She herself directed a film entitled La plainte de l’impératrice [7] in 1990.


- In September 2008, in "Lettres françaises" [8], Vincent Dieutre wrote of what happens each year in Paris at the Théâtre de la Ville. We republish these paragraphs here.


Wonderful, here it is in the mail! The program for the next season at the Théâtre de la Ville, with its form for subscriptions, has arrived. Its appearance in my letter box marks the end of springtime. As in each of the past ten years I patiently peel it open. But just as in other years, I do hurry a bit; one never knows who is going to speed past me and grab up the seats I was hoping for, those for which you make all those efforts, the situations in which you prefer not to bet on the complicity of the press relations department, those for which, after all, you finally agreed to become a subscriber: the seats for the next production by Pina Bausch, which will invariably crown the season at the beginning of June, and which you would miss for nothing in the world.

But this year, a doubt seizes me as I make those almost automatic marks in the box for Pina Bausch, scarcely noting what I might choose among the dozens of other productions offered. Yes, after all, I don’t really know why I put all this nervous energy into the act, why I never take a second look. A thought comes over me, which I submit to you my readers just as it arrives, in a form of meditation for the return of the fall season.

I wouldn’t think of listening to myself talk about the work of Pina Bausch. So much has already been written about it. Nor would I attempt an nth panegyric about her indispensable artistic life’s work (as one used to say in the 20th century). No, what nags at me is my need to understand what it is, almost thirty years after the inaugural cataclysm it was for me to encounter her work Neiken in the Cour d’honneur of the Palais des Papes in Avignon, a work that continues to resist forgetfulness, erosion, fading, and even the invasion of other more cutting or abrasive events in the range of my aesthetic experiences. And I don’t believe that it’s a question of a singular preoccupation on my part. or some egotistical fidelity to the fads and pleasures of another age. This year again, I could remark, letting my gaze wander over the spectators present for the most recent Paris springtime migration of the Wuppertal gang, that everyone else, like myself, imperturbably awaited the miracle, and everyone nevertheless knew that they would pick up only faded echos, but that they would be back next year, and that they would take home only a bitter certitude, it’s not quite the real thing any more, But ...

Yes, I watch them applauding half-heartedly, or, like myself, not at all. Every year there are some few (young, of course, too young to know better) who stand up and shout with enthusiasm, but the spring seasons pass, these youngsters become more rare, more isolated, and wounded, we watch them with envy. And like every time, She comes out for a bow, but without her former conviction. She also knows. One might say she doesn’t believe in it either, and that she is astonished by our insistence upon being there — she who is so herself little there. But she does it for the incredible dancers whom she has once more brought to give all that they possess of desperate energy, despite everything.

At times, one began to believe again. It started up again as it did in 1974. But a reality imposes itself: of the mythical Tanztheater de Wuppertal of the years 1975-1985 nothing remains but this big annual unpacking job in the form of a mixed revue, within which, certainly, some numbers continue to tear at the soul and at the sky of the cultural routine, but we all are able to guess that it is nothing but a shadow of itself. One year ago, She danced for the last time (in Danzon), and I saw the entire house in tears. Then, progressively, what had been the core of the experience retreated, followed by this sort of formal perfection, toneless and insistent, which continues to pick itself up, sumptuously, springtime after springtime, in working residences (Palermo, Sai Paolo, Istanbul, etc), with anecdotal incursions by new bright minds (and bodies?).

Pina herself speaks of the crime of having touched too profoundly the nerve of her time, in a decade of overheated artistic activity in which the Tanztheater represented all too faithfully the discomfort of a certain European moment in time. It was impossible for that unforgettable intensity to settle into an institutional form for a long haul. Already, when she shot the film Un Jour, which Pina requested from me in 1982, Chantal Akerman tells me she was rather scared by the incredible demiurgic strength of the Pina system, then in its paroxysm, by its terrible and evident urgency. ... I understand better today when I see the little tatters of that urgency, scattered here and there in the disappointments of programmed annual appearances, when they come back to shake us like the after-shocks of a lost earthquake. Do we have to view this as a Pina Bausch case, as Nietzsche described a Wagner case? Don’t we see this deceptive dimension among all the "greats" of modernity, and in cinema in the Godard after The Passion? Isn’t it necessary to let go, give up, some day, an entire artistic work, original and unmodifiable, such as only German art knows how to create? Where does this insistence come from, to always want to reanimate what is lying there on the stage, fed intravenously, scarcely trembling with spasms that are already just nostalgia, ... The worst part of all this is that I’m not very "dance".

Am I just paying a debt, getting even? No, it’s something else. For a long time, others have come along. Keersmaeker, Lauwers, Vandekeybus to renew the contingent of crazed admiration. But what I owe to Pina, it’s far more than having revealed to me, when I was 20, the world and the beauty of things. It’s also, and especially, in the deafening succession of revelations of the season that intoxicate us, to come back each year, at the very beginning of summer, modestly to take stock of the sweetness of retreat, unashamedly to expose some ungrateful subtlety. Perhaps that’s the secret of our feverish loyalty. There we are all, shrouded by darkness, expecting nothing of this annual spectacle that we know will be less strong than the preceding, with the ineluctable meaningfulness of a low tide. But if we are there, with no bitterness, unwilling to lose any moment of this effacement, it’s because, this year again, Pina and her friends invite us to stay on course for the "Why?", at a moment when the "Why not?" is eating away at us, putting us again in synch with a certain perennial demand so often battered by the inflation of absolutes.

Next year, if all goes well, I’ll come back again to get the news, not always good, of the destruction of bodies and of cities and lands traversed. Tenderly, I’ll take advantage of the chance to relearn from Pina and from her strong-headed lassitude, how high I should place the bar. That’s the way my life goes.

[1Tanztheater de Wuppertal

[2Ausdruckstanz

[3in New York

[4Fête à Wuppertal

[5And the Ship Sails On

[6Talk to Her

[7The Plaint of the Empress

[8The literary supplement of l’Humanité


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