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Flash Pina Review 1, 11-30: Child's Play
From Bausch and Wuppertal, a Souvenir for the Audiences of Forever

By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2004 Gus Solomons jr

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NEW YORK -- In her 2002 theater-piece, featured in this year's Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, November 16-21, the once seemingly inconsolable Pina Bausch continues her latter-day tendency to lighten up. "Fur die Kinder von gestern, heute und morgen" ("For the Children of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow") continues her familiar compositional method of mixing myriad dramatic episodes with ravishing dance solos and group passages of lusty, inventive movement by the wonderful dancers of her Germany-based troupe, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch.

The pervasive air of doom and gloom and transformation of the stage into forests or mountainsides that characterized earlier works has lifted. "Fur die Kinder" is packed with laugh-out-loud moments of black humor: a game of Chicken, where a man and woman alternate trying to hammer the other's hands with the heel of their shoe; another dare where two guys alternately hold each other's index fingers in the flame of each other's cigarette lighters for as long as possible before flinching and shoving their fingers into a glass of water. A guy blows up a balloon attached to the end of a long hollow ballet barre but can't run fast enough to retrieve it before it deflates.

An expansive white room (designed by Peter Pabst) with a wide window at the back, sliding doors in the side walls, and a floating ceiling houses the action. Bright lighting (perhaps also by Pabst, though no lighting design credit is given) subtly modulates the space, and the huge walls glide silently into different positions during the action to alter the shape of the space. The eight men wear silky shirts and slacks or elegant tuxedos; the six women wear softly flowing gowns, either dancing bare-footed or striding assertively in high heels. The clothes by Marion Cito are simple but luxurious, and everyone gets multiple versions of similar outfits.

Who can fathom Bausch's overall intentions? And for many, nearly three hours of her unique stream of consciousness were too much -- but Bausch's twisted sensibility invariably yields unlikely activities that startle, delight, and repulse you all at once. In the opening scene Fernando Suels and Jorge Puerta Armenta sit on a table, rocking side to side. Each time Suels rocks too far and tips over, Armenta catches his foot, preventing him from crashing onto his head: one man nonchalantly looking out for his friend's well-being.

Veteran Bausch performer Rainer Behr lunges across the stage with Helena Pikon in a low ballroom dance dip. As they travel, Behr spits a stream of water into Pikon's hand, and she draws her hand to her mouth, sipping it. Questionable hygiene aside, it's another act of loving trust, bizarrely expressed.

Early on, tiny Ditta Miranda Jasjfi draws in lipstick a traditional heart with an arrow through it on a sliding window pane at the rear; she labels it "love." Next to it tall, statuesque Julie Anne Stanzak draws an anatomical heart, labeling the aorta and ventricle. This juxtaposition of the symbolic and the anatomic epitomizes the whole piece. Throughout, vividly physical dance moments alternate with mime-and-dialog skits that lend themselves to multiple interpretations.

Does the title of the work refer to the inter-generational composition of Bausch's company itself? Youthful members lend energy and technical virtuosity, while veterans contribute great presence. Among the most powerful moments are those provided by placid, gently elegant Dominique Mercy and Nazareth Panadero, who milks double entendre from each crisp syllable she growls in her gravelly contralto; both are long-time company members.

Panadero's a riot, beating on a plate with a fork as if scrambling eggs and explaining that in her native Spain it's a common sound, because people "eat a lot of eggs." But with real eggs "it sounds different." Mercy breaks our hearts when he wanders around sprinkling the stage from the spout of a huge watering can, clad in nothing but an oversized white tutu that makes him look like a giant marshmallow.

Mercy in a tuxedo tries vainly to court Panadero, telling her he loves her. But she struts around in blood-red high heels, jutting her shoulders, and twists his every compliment into insult. "You have a nice, curvy figure," he says. "You mean I'm fat?!" she snaps.

For more pure entertainment value, each member of the cast has a pure dancing solo that shows off amazing dancing skill: the women's arms and hair fly frantically in exciting non-sequitur barrages of gesturing that constantly surprise; the young men, including also Kenji Takagi, Alexandre Castres, Pascal Merighi, and Michael Strecker, skitter on their powerful haunches in hip-hop inspired slides and deep lunges. Fair-haired everyman Andrej Berezin does a heartbreaking little hand dance, walking his fingers up and down his body in a poem of loneliness.

In Act One the full company overruns the stage and spills into the aisles, arms stiffly outstretched, like limp-winged gliding birds. The act ends with the cast adding extensions to an elaborate sand castle, built on an oriental carpet. In Act Two, they lurch in waves toward the proscenium before collapsing to the floor and reprising the opening rocking motif. And finally, they do what looks like a condensed version of the whole piece in seconds, hurtling madly, desperately through the white room, as the lights fade, leaving the audience to ponder the experience, even as they spring to their feet for the obligatory BAM standing ovation.

Bausch's performers are such vivid personalities it's a shame no photos or biographies are included in the program. They deserve to be recognized and acknowledged for their marvelous talent and dedication to communicating Bausch's unique vision.

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