Pina Bausch’s Final Dance Work Comes to London

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Various composers, “…como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si” (Like moss on a stone):  Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Sadler’s Wells, London, 11.2.2016 (J.O’D)


Pina Bausch Como el musguito en la piedra; photo credit, Laszlo Szito.
Pina Bausch Como el musguito en la piedra; photo credit, Laszlo Szito.

Dancers: Pablo Aran Gimeno, Rainer Behr, Damiano Ottavio Bigi, Clémentine Deluy, Silvia Farias Heredia, Jonathan Fredrickson, Ditta Miranda Jasjfi. Nayoung Kim, Eddie Martinez, Dominique Mercy, Thusnelda Mercy, Morena Nascimento, Azusa Seyama, Fernando Seuls Mendoza, Anna Wehsarg, Tsai-Chin Yu

Director and Choreographer: Pina Bausch
Set Design: Peter Pabst
Costume Designer:   Marion Cito
Musical Collaboration: Matthias Burkert, Andreas Eisenschneider

Music: Cecilia, Congreso, Rodrigo Covacevich, Victor Jara, Magdalena Matthey, Mecánica Popular, Violeta Parra, Chico Trujillo, Mauricio Vivencio, The Alexander Balanescu Quartett, Bonobo, Cinematic Orchestra, Count Basic, Carl Craig & Moritz von Oswald, Matthew Herbert, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Jean Pierre Magnet, Russel Mills, Daniel Melingo, Madeleine Peyroux, David Sylvian, Amon Tobin, Manuel Wandji, Bugge Wesseltoft, Alexander Zekke

Artistic Director: Lutz Förster

A woman in black sits at a table that is covered with a white cloth. A waiter serves rice from a bowl on to the plate in front of her. The woman indicates with a smile and a gracious wave of the hand that two spoonfuls are enough. The waiter goes away, comes back to fill a glass with water, then goes away again. After making sure that no one can see, the woman returns the rice from her plate to the bowl, picks the bowl up and dives under the table. She reappears from behind the cloth, her hair now dishevelled. Sitting on the floor, she clutches the bowl furtively to her and crams its contents into her mouth. To drink, she reaches up to the table and tips the glass so that water spills from it in a stream.

This scene, or visual poem, happens a little way into the second half of “…como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si” (Like moss on a stone), the last work that the choreographer Pina Bausch completed before her death at the age of sixty-nine in 2009. Knowing that her parents were the owners of a hotel and restaurant, knowing that she was thought to have suffered from an eating disorder, it is difficult not to think that the woman under the table is Pina Bausch herself as a child.

And if she isn’t, her actions do at least throw light on those of other women (and men) in work by this choreographer: the woman who makes a show of eating what look like anchovies from a dish, and the exaggerated, almost defiant, pleasure she registers when swallowing them; the woman who sits passively as men rub breadcrumbs over her arms and legs; the man with a bowl of something like porridge on his lap, who says as he eats: ‘Pour Maman. Pour Papa. Pour Tante Marguerite…’; the woman, earlier in this piece, who spits out the water that a man pours into her mouth.

Part of what Sadler’s Wells Artistic Director, Alistair Spalding, describes as ‘the final stage in the evolution of Bausch’s tanztheater style, which gradually moved from darker, more theatrical works to ones where speech features less and dance considerably more’, “…como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si” (Like moss on a stone) is certainly different from the work that the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch has presented at Sadler’s Wells over the last three years. The stage is not covered in grass, or earth, or giant cactuses. The performers do not immediately engage in some repeated and seemingly inexplicable activity.

There are repeated, seemingly inexplicable activities, but much of the time is devoted to solos by each of the dancers on a smooth, bare stage in which cracks appear and disappear. The women dance in strapless or halter-neck evening gowns of chiffon, satin and silk. The men, cypher-like, wear shirts and trousers of black or grey. The solos differ according to the music and the body of the dancer in question, but there is a shared vocabulary of twisting and spinning, and clasped hands that bring the movements of the arms to the fore.

This focus on the dancing body is punctuated by what are perhaps intentionally pallid echoes of Tanztheater Wuppertal’s more ‘theatrical’ moments from the past. A female dancer gives an empty cup and saucer to a man in the audience, then asks for it back. This might be a reference to the two dancers in 1980, who served tea to people in the stalls. The same woman later asks the same man, flirtatiously, for his spectacles, which she cleans on the hem of her gown. In 1980, again, a woman teased a man in the front row by holding out a key (for the assignation she suggested) only to withdraw her arm each time he tried to take it. The ‘tease’, in 2009, is a barelegged male dancer in red stilettoes, who parades flirtatiously at the front of the stage after the female dancer has gone.

The solos of “…como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si” (Like moss on a stone) can become repetitious. More than a few of the dancers’ speeches, for there are speeches, fall flat. At the interval, a lot of people in the audience seemed disappointed that the work was so different from those that preceded it. (I was one of them.) Yet there is still always the feeling you get in Pina Bausch that anything could happen when a dancer walks on to the stage. Strange, beautiful, unsettling things do happen. And in this work, as if to explain them all, is a woman sitting under a table like a child, devouring a bowl of rice in secret.

John O’Dwyer

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