Feature: Pina Bausch backstage by KH. W. Steckelings

Monday 20 April 2015

'Pina Bausch Backstage'
Photos by Kh. W. Steckelings

Pina Bausch backstage
A book of photographs by KH. W. Steckelings.
Published by Stefan Koldehoff, in association with the Pina Bausch Foundation, with a foreword by Salomon Bausch and an essay by Nora and Stefan Koldehoff.


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Forty years ago – at the start of the 1973/74 season – the late Pina Bausch took over as director of ballet at the then Wuppertaler Bühnen and was soon causing controversy with her productions. With her company, Pina Bausch emancipated dance and turned it into a unique, new form of theatre. It was a revolution that would resonate around the world and redefine dance internationally.

Back in those early days of what soon became Tanztheater Wuppertal, Bausch gave photographer KH. W Steckelings access to the company’s rehearsals. Between 1974 and 1975 he took over 1,200 photographs of the company working in the old ballet room in the Wuppertal Opera House. Some of the photos were used in programmes, but over time they were forgotten and even Steckelings wasn’t aware of the significance of the body of work which lay in his archive – until in 2014 he met Salomon Bausch, Pina’s son and head of the Pina Bausch Foundation which was founded to preserve her legacy after she died suddenly 2009. There was very little visual documentation of this period in the company’s history, so this collection was an important find.

A selection of around 150 of these fascinating black and white photographs have now been published in a hardback book. Although the works shown in progress are no longer part of the repertory (according to Salomon Bausch, some, like the 1975 Wind von West and Fritz, his mother’s first work for the company, are awaiting rediscovery) – what makes them particularly interesting, and timeless, is the glimpse they give into her way of working: “a process involving concentration and tension – emotional and physical – as well as trust and patience; an atmosphere that was maintained in the following years and can appear almost casual to outsiders,” he says.

There can’t be many dance companies with members who were performing with them in the mid 1970s but Dominique Mercy and Josephine Ann Endicott feature in this collection of images – and are dancing with the company this week in London.

In an essay for the book Nora and Stefan Koldehoff look back on the early years of the company and also talk to Steckelings himself. The main reason he succeeded in catching the spirit of the company, they conclude, is that his working methods were so similar to Bausch’s. “He stayed in the background with his 35mm camera, acted discreetly, approaching the dancers with his lens just as cautiously as Pina Bausch did with her questions… just the search for something essential, for the underlying themes of human existence which concern everyone over and above their everyday lives.” The photographs are more than just a documentation of the early days of the Pina Bausch company, they are works of art in their own right.

Another aspect of this collection which make it such a pleasure for anyone interested in Tanztheater Wuppertal are the additional glimpses it gives of its founder. Nearly always with her long hair tied loosely back, often with a cigarette casually in hand, in many of them the young Pina Bausch of the mid 1970s is animated, smiling, amused and amusing, as well as often captured deep in thought.

Available to order via Waterstones and other booksellers.

Publisher: NIMBUS. Kunst und Bucher ISBN: 9783907142998, February 2015.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch
Ahnen 23 – 26 April
www.sadlerswells.com

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