Sunday, 10 June 2012

Nur Du and Viktor

I've been looking forward to Nur Du since late last summer when I managed to book just before it sold out.
Pina Bausch met Tete in Plaza Doriego one Sunday afternoon in 1994, when he would dance with anyone, and she suddenly found herself dancing Argentine tango. She decided to include tango in Nur Du, and invited Tete and his new teaching partner Silvia to Germany in 1995 to teach her company. When the piece was performed at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, Pina danced with Tete on stage.
There's actually only one tango in Nur Du. No doubt she could have watched social tango for five minutes and remembered enough to teach her cast, but she respected the dance and invited them to teach it. Dancers are 'movement junkies' as someone said, and the experience of tango isn't quite like any other dance, so it extends the vocabulary, so to speak. & no doubt she knew the stage tango, 'tango fantasia', pioneered as a stage show by Copes to such acclaim in Europe in the 1980s, and it must have pleased her to show social tango, 'real world tango'.
Nur Du is made up of moments, the longest perhaps no more than a few minutes. A succession of moments, poignant, funny, absurd, breathtaking. In subdued light, a woman dances to a sorrowful blues, then the lights come up and she wanders around desperately seeking for the exit as another woman recalls the routines she used to perform in high school as a cheerleader. The two overlap, comment on each other. Perhaps then (I can't remember the sequence) a man and a woman stand on a chair (lots of chairs in Pina Bausch), he holds her carefully by the hair, she steps forwards off the chair, suspended by her hair, and is lowered gently to the ground. Perhaps that was followed by a sequence I remembered from the film: a man, desperate on the floor, and when his friend returns he flings himself half way across the stage into his arms. There is no plot, no story-line. So how did something so fragmentary hold together? There seems to be a very clear control of time, a sculpting of time (Tarkovsky's phrase), and of emotion too. You suddenly notice there's been no laughter for a while. There are moments of intense activity, then subdued intense passages. The perception of time is manipulated.
But most of all I thought that the fragments are held together by the dancers themselves. Pina Bausch said she was not interested in how dancers moved but by what moved them. You can imagine many very accomplished dancers being turned away in favour of those that Pina found truly interesting, and she made work out of their creativity, anxieties, fears, probably their dreams and nightmares. (Picasso is supposed to have said: 'Many people painted apples. But what is interesting about Cezanne's apples is Cezanne's anxieties'.) Her method was to seek out what was interesting in her dancers, so essentially they are not performing roles dictated by the choreographer, ('Romeo', 'The Sleeping Beauty', 'the Black Swan'), they are given the opportunity to be themselves, and at the curtain call you look on them as people you have met that evening, remarkable people you were very privileged to spend three hours with.
Nur Du had a number of dance sequences. I saw another of her long pieces, Viktor, a few evenings earlier. It's also fragmentary and episodic, with less dance in any conventional sense: Viktor is the only contemporary piece I've seen in which the women wear heels, the men shoes, throughout. It's quite a dark piece, it seems to highlight the way men tend to treat women. It also has wonderfully absurd and comic moments: an auction of live dogs, for instance. Two live sheep are led on stage at one point, and the first part ends with a real on-stage mess: earth, sawdust, broken biscuit and a slice of veal, probably more. (The veal? The dancer in the film who puts veal into her ballet shoes: that's a sequence from Viktor.) For the most part the dancers aren't dancing in a conventional sense, they are 'performers'. 
There's more obvious dance in Nur Du; the tango (Mariposita) memorably warm and familiar, but other sequences, two men staggering around all over the stage holding a heavy table with one hand and a glass in the other, laughing and shouting: it's not dance as you know it, but it demands the strength and co-ordination of dancers to do it. Her performers are frequently put to the extreme, but that's the nature of dance. In one instant, out of nowhere, a man walks on stage with a chair and stands by the seat. Then in one extraordinary sideways leap, he's over the seat, clears the back of the chair, and is standing at the back of the chair. Blink and you miss it. I still can hardly believe I saw it. A quick point, something that wakens, energises, your perception. 

Two performances, two standing ovations. 
There's an interesting piece on Pina's work here. It's from the company's website, which also includes a link to the LONDONblog, a day-by-day account of the visit, in English and with photos.   

P.S.  WARNING: this performance includes smoking. (Notice outside Barbican auditorium.) 

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