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Flash Flashback, 11-14: Wherefore Wuppertal?
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.