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Flash Flashback, 11-14: Wherefore Wuppertal?
Bausch Beached

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2007 Paul Ben-Itzak

(The Dance Insider has been revisiting its Flash Archive. This Flash Review was first posted May 4, 2005. Tanztheater Wuppertal performs Pina Bausch's "Ten Chi" Friday through Sunday at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley, California.)

PARIS -- Well campers, it's finally happened: Pina Bausch has laid an egg. Not a stinker, not even a bad dance, nor one without some giggles and an oasis or two of Bauschian beauty. But clearly a work without an overarching sense of direction, riddled with more generic modern dance floundering than we've come to expect from the most distinct voice to emerge in dance anywhere over the last quarter-century. Like the whale whose tail and head (?) peer up from Peter Pabst's apocalyptic (even if it's raining cherry blossoms not nuclear waste) set, with her latest spectacle, "Ten Chi," this giant of dance has beached.

My recently arrived American dancer companion for last night's French premiere at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt of this work, created last year in residency in Japan, would probably want me to pause at this point to let you know that the dancing and dancers of Bausch's Tanztheater Wuppertal, which she was seeing for the first time (in the US, dance is usually too expensive for dancers) were extraordinary. She's right, but therein, I think, lies part of the problem.

This is Wuppertal, the Next Generation. Dominique Mercy (absent in last year's "Nefes") is still there, dancing his sad dance, including a ritual solo in a women's gown. (His daughter Thusnelda has joined him in the company, which Bausch uses in one brief but poignant segment where dad enters with daughter draped over his shoulders.) Nazareth Panadero, refreshingly less bitchy this time out, squeams orgastically, as a younger man unravels her black tulle dress. Azusa Seyama acquits herself well, even if the Asian dancer is employed somewhat predictably in the sporadically evoked Japan theme. (Do we really need yet another comic riff on the snapshot-crazy Japanese person?) But so are a fleet of young bucks, whom Bausch deploys in a series of deftly executed, whirling (and one skirt-twirling) solos which, while muscly, are not all that distinguished from what we might see elsewhere.

It's as if, no longer able to draw on the subtlety of seasoned performers who understand restraint, Bausch has let the physical talents and worldwide modern dance influences of this younger crew (at least the men) guide her creation, with the result that a modern mish-mash has throttled her normally piquant and selective expression. (Just how many windmilling arms can you see before they bore you?) Seyama 'flies' around the room, barely touching the floor while supported by two men, although she doesn't 'engage' them (as my friend pointed out), diluting the effect and making their burden heavier by scrunching her armpits into their hands. Alvin Ailey's "Revelations" appears to be quoted twice, in a male performer's thrashing-armed "Wade in the Water"-like exit, and in the final moment, when a white-gowned Seyama ecstatically thrashes about "Cry"-like. Even hip-hop influenced floor work makes an appearance. And another. And another.

In addition to movement cliches, there are also theatrical cliches and even ethnic ones. One black-garbed young man emerges and recites a soliloquy that consists solely of naming all the Japanese manufacturers of his electronic possessions and car. And so on. Considering the frequent lulls, it was a dangerous choice to have Mercy promenade twice on the lip of the stage, shoes in hand, and encourage members of the audience to make the snoozing/snoring sound.

In addition to Mercy, highlights include a segment where Panadero, normally Bausch's chatty Cathy, gets to show her precise dance chops; another where three men emerge with Eraserhead hair, their looks at us and at each other indicating they're not quite sure how this happened; and one in which one of the more voluptuous performers, frizzy hair dangling over a mike which she is practically swallowing, courses about the stage super-amped and growling "Tu vois?" (You see?), punctuating the routine by punching a (miked) pillow. A man drags in a long dining table covered with a white cloth, and regards her in awe, until she sits down at the opposite end, loudly crushing her pillow, and pulls the tablecloth and him with it across the top, perhaps intending to swallow him, "Jaws"- like.

But these morsels can't sustain the usual rapt attention a Bausch spectacle engages, and the patchwork score doesn't help. Like the sequence of dance vignettes themselves, it often seems randomly selected and not really connected. After my first Bausch experience -- "Der Fensterputzer," seen in 1997 -- I remember thinking that even if I couldn't explain the theme or scheme, it was clear that at least in her head, Bausch had one. Subsequent viewings of other dances confirmed this impression. Here, though, the problem is not that I am left scratching my head but that I'm not sure Bausch had a clear plan in hers, and thus she offered little to provoke me.

"Ten Chi," a co-production of Saitama Prefecture, Saitama Arts Foundation, and Nippon Cultural Centre, runs through May 16 at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt. In addition to those mentioned above, the cast includes Regina Advento, Alexandre Castres, Mechthild GroBmann (not sure from the program what that fourth letter is), Ditta Miranda Jasjfi, Eddie Martinez, Pascal Merighi, Helena Pikon, Jorge Puerta Armenta, Julie Shanahan, Julie Anne Stanzak, Michael Strecker, Fernando Suels, Kenji Takagi, and Aida Vainieri.

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