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Flash Review, 6-8: Resuscitated
Bausch's New "Breath" puts the Dance back in Dance

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2004 The Dance Insider

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PARIS -- With her latest work "Nefes" (in Turkish, "Breath"), which received its French premiere Friday at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt on Tanztheater Wuppertal, Pina Bausch singularly revives dance in Europe, creating an intimate work that, rare these days at least from the younger generation of choreographers on this side of the Atlantic, emphasizes choreography over "dramaturgy," returning us to a place where breath expresses itself throughout the body rather than in the vocal chords of long-winded performers, and where the kinetic dynamic asks no aid from extra-dance elements. Bausch is not interested in exploring the relationships between different media, but, principally, between a man and a woman, as expressed in sensual and movement terms. "Nefes" should be required viewing in composition classes (do they even take composition classes here?). Not because it presents much that is truly novel as choreography, but because it is a dance spectacle created in the year 2003, by a European choreographer, which chooses to express itself primarily in dance terms.

There is certainly the element of Pina at play here -- but play and dance should go hand in hand anyway. And the play is in the form of what can almost be considered brief interstices; it doesn't dominate or set the tone. A man sitting "Indian-style" on a pillow somehow manages, in one blurred second, to jump into the air, without straightening up, and scissor his legs to the under-side of the pillow, slowly progressing towards a woman at the left wing of the stage, who wonders what he's up to. He gets closer and closer, each time repeating the pillow move, until he's next to her and scissors his legs around her, carrying her off.

In its pure movement sections -- 90 percent of the piece! -- "Nefes" certainly has a Bauschian dramatic (or comedic) inflection. A young blonde man announces to his female partner -- in his silent regard, I mean -- that he's going to perform a tour-de-force for her, removing some garments to give himself more freedom to move. Her response mingles delight and consternation, as if to scold him, "Not in front of all these people, dear!"

As far as choreographic inflections go, a focus on the arms certainly reflects Bausch's own assets as a dancer; she's long been known for her eloquent elongated upper limbs.

And there is playing with movement forms. The same female dancer from the above duet, Shantala Shivalingappa, closes the first act in a duet in which, while the gestural movements on her body, such as the ringing of her fingers or the shifting of her eyes, seem to come from bharata natyam (or perhaps kuchipudi, at which Shivalingappa is also a specialist, in her own right), the ways that body is propelled by her partner -- for example, rigid at a diagonal -- do not.

And there is mundane, taken from life movement accentuated by gentle prop-touches. "Nefes," which was created in residency in Istanbul as a co-production with the International Istanbul Theatre Festival and the Istanbul Foundation for the Arts, starts with bare-chested men bathing each other at a Turkish bath, to rhythmically entrancing Turkish music. The one doing the bathing, kneeling, squeezes a wet cheesecloth sack until soap bubbles seep out and bubble over the back of his client. Women in silken gowns approach the bathing men, one by one, hovering over them and dropping their heads slightly so that their long hair conceals their faces -- a reflection on the practice of some Islamic women of concealing their faces? -- and slowly slap their manes in time with the percussion on the recorded score.

"Nefes" may disappoint Pina Bausch diehards in one respect. That this is a younger group of performers than we've seen in recent years from Tanztheater Wuppertal no doubt gives the choreographer the license to push her dancers to go all out physically, but it also creates a droll deficit, that is to say a deficit in the droll department. Gone are veterans like the sad clown (and fierce mover) Dominique Mercy and the deadpan comic Jan Minarik, who delivered that something ineffable often critical to holding a seemingly disparate Bausch spectacle together, dramatically speaking. (Retained is the one-note Nazareth Panadero, as abrasively bitchy in French as she is in English.) Their absence makes scenographer Peter Pabst's contribution all the more essential as a recognizable landmark of Pina-land. Pabst, too, provides a lesson to a younger generation of choreographers (and their scenic collaborators) who would overpower the dance with the decor. His choices for "Nefes" are spare: There is no mountain of roses to cover the stage -- for this show, a floor of wooden slats -- but just a cascade of water from the catwalk which broadens into a sizeable puddle at centerstage, dipped in and drunk from sparingly by the performers. And there are two brief video films projected on stage-length curtains in the background of the live dancers, one an ocean that provides some sweep to what's otherwise an intimate spectacle, the other a manhole's-eye view of a busy street corner, giving the illusion of the live dancers scurrying about beneath the vehicles and thus spurring the evening's one chaotic segment.

Pabst, you see, understands that what he does should compliment the dance, not overwhelm it. It's a confidence in his choreographer that more choreographers In Europe's younger generation (Do they even study dance? It doesn't show.) could do to have in themselves. A good starting point would be to catch Pina Bausch's "Nefes," on view at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt through June 22.

In addition to the performers mentioned above, "Nefes" is interpreted, with quiet verve, by Ruth Amarante, Rainer Behr, Andrey Berezin, Alexandre Castres, Silvia Farlas, Ditta Miranda Jasjfi, Na Young Kim, Daphnis Kokkinos, Melanie Maurin, Pascal Merighi, Cristiana Morganti, Fabien Prioville, Jorge Puerta Armenta, Azusa Seyama, Michael Strecker, Fernando Sueis, Kenji Takagi, and Anna Wehsarg. Music is by Mercan Dede, Birol Topaloglu, Burhan Ocal, Istanbul Oriental Ensemble, Replicas, Bulent Ersoy, Candan Ercetin, Suren Asaduryan with Yansimalar, Amon Tobin, Arild Andersen, Bugge Wesseltoft, Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath, Dr. Rockit, Electrotwist, Inner Zone Orchestra, Koop, Mardi Gras B B, Astor Piazzolla, Tom Waits, and Uhuhboo Project. Matthias Burkert and Andreas Eisenschneider were the musical collaborators, and Marion Cito designed the costumes.

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