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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Pina Bausch, celle qui a fait parler la danse

by Muriel Steinmetz

Pina Bausch, She Who Made Dance Speak

Translated Thursday 2 July 2009, by Henry Crapo

Disappearance. The great German choreographer has just died. She brought dance and theatre together without ever breaking the movement. In France, the Théâtre de la Ville was her natural habitat.

The German dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch, who directed the Tanztheater de Wuppertal since 1973, passed away yesterday [1] at the age of 68. What a shock! Just two years ago I saw her in Venice, where she received the Golden Lion from the hands of Ishmael Ivo, director of the Biennale of contemporary dance in the city of the Doges. She showed up in her habitual dress, with strict dark trousers, her features pale, her long hair parted in the middle, with pony-tail. She had the air almost of a nun, very moved and smiling, with a timid "thank you".

An essential moment in the history of gesture

What a road traveled since her post-war youth in a Germany laid ruin, when she played amongst the tables and chairs of the café run by her father, moments remembered, many years later, in 1978, giving rise to the creation of Café Müller, a piece she was at times able to dance in solo. In a prodigious movement of childhood recollection and autobiography, she would mime the movements of playing among the legs of the adults.

Born in 1940 in Solingen, she trained herself in the post-Expressionist movement represented by Kurt Joos, himself a disciple of the celebrated Mary Wigman. Pina Bausch left very quickly for the United States to finish her training with Paul Taylor and Antony Tudor. She began to be known on a European scale, and principally in France, where the Festival de Nancy received her in 1977 for her Sept Pechés capitaux [2], based on the text by Brecht and with music by Kurt Weill. Earlier, she had given Iphegenia inTauris and The Rite of Spring, a masterpiece that the Paris Opera and later the Festival in Avignon took pleasure in presenting. The art of Pina Bausch was immediately accepted with enthusiasm in France. The Théâtre de la Ville, then directed by Gérard Violette, and the Festival of Avignon, both programmed her work many times.

Pina Bausch brought speech to the dance, inventing a form in which the movement is necessarily accompanied by a spoken text. Among the most decisive we should mention, among others, Konthaktof (1978), where she pitilessly explores the relations between men and women in a society that straight-jackets the body, which has a devilishly hard time to liberate itself. There is pathos mixed with humor in this composition. It imposes no technical prowess on the numerous dancers, but rather requires them above all to endanger themselves on a human plane. Dominique Mercy, grand favorite dancer of the lady from Wuppertal, said "To work on compositions by Pina Bausch, it always means working on one’s own history."

Another masterpiece, Neiken [3] (1983), was danced in the Cour d’Honneur of the Festival of Avignon. The stage is covered with flowers, and two German shepherds bark from here and there, while the dancers jump from the top of a wall. It was both a reflection on the Berlin Wall and an image of the liberty of the artist, compared to a rabbit frolicking in the grass in the no man’s land separating the two Germanies. A work both tragic and playful, as was often the case with Pina Bausch.

From these rich years of the seventies and eighties, we should also mention Arien, Walzer, Bandonéon. In the nineties, the fame of Pina Bausch was such that she was invited everywhere. She took up a career of what one might call a choreographic globe-trotter. In this way she brought back Mazurka Fogo from Lisbon, from Rio de Janeiro, Agua, from Istanbul, Nefés, from Japan, Tan Shi, and from South Korea, Rough Cut.

The art of Pina Bausch is unarguably an essential moment in the history of gesture in the 20th century. She had the courage to bring ordinary life into the theater, via the inner life of her artists, in a dance that is not self-sufficient. She thus skirted the theater, and opened a path for all those who would henceforth bring voice into dance.

The territory of relations between the sexes

Ferocious and smiling feminist, she mapped out the territory of relations between the sexes, with raw frankness. Certain of the images she created, as with Dominique Mercy in a tutu, interpreting the Death of the Swan, or those women with unshaved legs in sumptuous evening dress, long hair in cascades down their backs, are unforgettable. The trace that Pina Bausch has left is equally visible in the work of Sasha Waltz, her young collaborator and successor, and in others who recognize the debt they owe her. One cannot help being saddened by the brutal effacement of this artist, whom one believed to have still much to say and to do.

[130 June

[2Seven Deadly Sins


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