Saturday, 7 May 2011


Back in the mid-1980s, when UK TV still showed contemporary dance, I watched Cafe Muller, fascinated, on a small, black-and-white TV; Pina Bausch dancing with those extraordinarily expressive arms. It seemed too 'angst-focused', the dancers throwing themselves at the walls, the floor, the furniture and each other, but it imprinted itself irrevocably on my memory. I tried to book twice for Bausch company performances at Sadlers Wells, always too late to get a seat, even six weeks before a performance.

3D is a revelation in Pina. Dance is physical, Pina Bausch dance is particularly physical, and 3D conveys physicality, the roundness of the body, and the space surrounding it. You get even more than the best seat, since the camera follows performers around onstage. Sometimes it's filmed in the theatre: extracts from Rite of Spring are featured at the start, and the impact of moving bodies, in both tight and open groups, really is palpable. Elsewhere, the industrial landscape of Wuppertal is the background, including the wonderful, futuristic overhead railway, and 3D brings out the vulnerability, strength, weakness, sexiness, grace, elegance, power of the human body against these backgrounds.

Dancers weren't Pina Bausch's marionettes. Her work seems to have come from questioning and challenging them, as much from them as from her; from their desires, fears, joys, loves, hatreds, too, and from their intelligence and humour and creativity. We meet them close up: they talk about her, to her, they remember her, they create brief performances for her. 'She told us to keep on searching. & so you keep on searching, never knowing what you are looking for, or whether you are on the right track.'

She met 'Tete' Rusconi in BsAs, and immediately found herself dancing tango. He and Silvia were invited to Wuppertal, and added their experience of dance to a new production. There's nothing of this in Pina but there is one tango, La Cachilla, written and performed (it says) by Eduardo Arolas, but the recording sounds more recent, and I've been unable to find an Arolas recording of it. But the dance isn't tango: it's a man, dressed in a ballerina's dress, trying to perform a ballerina's step and repeatedly falling over, while being pushed along a dark, graffiti-scrawled train tunnel on a flat railway bogie. It's funny, absurd, and touching, too, as is the dance of the hippo monster and the ballerina in mid-river...

'I'm not interested in how people move but in what moves them' she said. You could think of that in connection with tango, too, couldn't you?

Extracts from Kontakthof, meeting place, the dance hall, are also featured, dramatising the rituals of the social dance, as well as the many layers of fears, desires and fantasies beneath it; written for performance by two 'teams' of ordinary people, teenagers and over-65s. Pina also shows extracts from Vollmond (Full Moon) with the astonishing rainstorm, and some of the most ecstatic dancing I've ever seen. It really is staggering to watch dance at this level, at this intensity, from so close.

To some degree I judge work by the extent to which it changes the way I see the world I emerge into: children and parents moving in the streets, the spaces you walk through, even the pigeons strutting and the airplanes overhead, it all seemed part of a dance, because her dance doesn't seem to be some world apart, but it is in us, it's our own fears and love.

The website for Pina with a (2D) trailer is here. There will be a Pina Bausch retrospective in London in June and July 2012 as a highlight of the Cultural Olympiad preceding the 2012 Olympic Games.


ModernTanguera said...

I am so jealous! I can't wait to see this film, but I don't think it has a US release date yet.

I got to see Pina several years ago, when she came here to accept the Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy. It was wonderful to hear her speak about her work and see how it came to life in her dancers. I am so excited to see this film...

Tangocommuter said...

Hi, Modern Tanguero! & I'm sure the film will get to you soon!

However, if you heard her talk about her work, you'll have got more from her than you'll get in the film: there's a lot about her from her dancers, but very little of her. The film is very spectacular, but Pina herself is largely absent from it. I looked at the Tanztheater website, but there's no archival footage there either. There must be film of rehearsals, talks, lectures, discussions, somewhere...

If you go to and search the uploads for 'Pina' there are some 'making of' clips, and also extracts from the film.

Iain said...

Just saw Pina tonight - marvellous. It felt like there were a few pieces of interesting tango music in the film - it sounded like there was some old German tango in a few places, but I wasn't quick enough to catch it in the credits.

Did you know that she'd done a dance piece called Bandoneon in 1980? There's a clip of it here, again using Cachila:

and this picture here confirms to me that the part in the movie is at least referencing that work:

Anyway, the music - Arolas is the composer, but I haven't been able to confirm that his orchestra ever recorded it. I've listened to different versions of the tango several times tonight, so I can't remember exactly how the one in the film sounded ,but I remember it sounding pretty slow, so it's quite possibly the Fresedo one here, which I'm guessing is 1932

For dancing, I think I like the Pugliese one on A Los Amigos better...

Tangocommuter said...

Hi Ian, and many thanks for the comment and the links.

Kontakthof is the piece using the old 'German tango' music. I saw it in London and at first thought the music was some unfamiliar tango, until the singing started in German. I guess it was from the 20s and 30s, and particularly nostalgic for post-war Germany where Pina grew up.

I hadn't noticed the date for Bandoneon, 1980. But I think the company's contact with tango dance is later. She met Tete dancing outside in the Plaza Dorriega during a company tour of Buenos Aires sometime in the early 90s, and invited him and his teaching partner, Silvia, to Wuppertal in 1995 to teach tango. The result of this is a piece called Nur Du, which incorporates actual tango dance. She danced performances of it with Tete in Paris in 1966 I think. Silvia has recently put together a short film about teaching in Wuppertal, called 'Pina y Tete' and she's asked the company for permission to post it on the web, so it might become available. It's made from footage shot at the time in Wuppertal.

Both Bandoneon and Nur Du are in the month-long Pina Bausch festival in London next summer.

I'm sure you're right about the 1932 Fresedo recording: thanks for that. Arolas himself died in 1924.