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Flash Pina Review 2, 11-30: Going to the Chapel
Our Lady of Bausch

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2004 Chris Dohse

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NEW YORK -- Going to the Brooklyn Academy of Music to see Pina Bausch has become some weird kind of New York City ritual. Like if the Intellectual Elite were a Boy Scout troupe, there would be a merit badge for it. Bausch has been bringing her work to BAM for 20 years, and her imagery has become legendary, an urban mythology: the stage covered with dirt, the mountain of flowers, the heated aquarium. So now it seems like everybody, and I mean everybody, is here, in the lobby, spilling over the steps out front. At least five people from different chapters of my past pop into my face before or after the show, and some of them turn out to now know each other. Weird. And it's weird the way everyone, whether they are in the dance world or not, refers to Pina by her first name, like she's an intimate friend.

"Fur die Kinder von gestern, heute und morgen" ("For the Children of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow"), seen November 18, takes place inside an idealized, pristine drawing room, rather like an architectural model of a proscenium space, constructed to magnify linear perspective. The people here seem trapped in an eternal dinner party, often reduced to Bauschian stereotypes. The women rule this roost, snappish harridans or ethereal somnambulists in high heels and long tresses. The men are canine doofuses or weak-chinned simperers. As doors built into the set are drawn open and closed, secret things occur.

Another weird thing about Bausch is that such a multitude of things can happen onstage in a three-hour barrage of often stunning visual non sequiturs. Few of the discreet elements of her marathon assemblage make any sense, yet they accrue a kind of perfection in the way that dream incongruities do. In the wrangle for possible meaning, only a handful of specific actions remain. The physical acts simply evaporate, like the unraveling of memory. I'm left wondering about the things I do recall, "Did that really happen?"

A woman brushes her hair with a shoe. Two men take turns burning each other's fingers over open flames. There are ballroom couplings. A jumprope game. The woman who looks like Magenta in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" (Nazareth Panadero) scrambles a bowl of invisible eggs. The guy who looks like too many of my ex-boyfriends (Andrej Berezin) makes fluttering dove gestures with his hands.

I missed Bausch's past two New York appearances. The last thing I saw was 1997's "Der Fensterputzer." But I've been hearing everyone say how she's mellowing out, tossing off her gloom. As if, to paraphrase Morrissey, Pina Bausch just might die with a smile on her face after all.

In "Fur die Kinder," I see the same iconic Bausch, but on a more intimate scale: the war between the sexes, the essential inability of men and women to connect, or for romantic love to endure. Perhaps in this work Bausch is lost in nostalgia for the simple time before sexual urges ruin everything, for the years of childhood delight before the loss of innocence. She certainly suffers hopelessness and frayed misconnection with humor, a greater sense of whimsy.

The arc of the piece is built from a series of spare solos that create a tension of anticipation, as if we're all waiting for some big awesome stage mechanism to occur. Perhaps the ceiling will fall. The walls do a bit of dancing on their own, looming over the human figures to suggest nightmarish menace, an unreliability of physics. Perhaps there's more full-out dancing than in "Der Fensterputzer." In terms of pure movement invention, it seems that the dancers are dancing less like Bausch and more like themselves, as if they've been given sets of gestural themes and puzzled out solutions of their own.

During intermission, I walk outside to absorb the vibe. I begin to count how many times I hear the word "gorgeous" and in how many languages. Yes, in a weird way, Pina Bausch has become an intimate friend, and coming to see her has become a religious experience. In her works, Bausch tries to articulate the nature of things, ultimate realities of human frailty, and to identify her position in chaos. Like the best art, we viewers are able to project ourselves into her staged representation of good and evil and rumble around inside our own heads, grappling there with tenderness and incomprehensible, surreal longing, and finding universal truths.

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