Review: Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch- Água -Barbican Theatre
Performance reviewed: 28 June
I wonder if anyone coming cold and uninformed to these ten World Cities events would be able to guess which city had inspired the performance. In this case, the opening giant film projection of palm fronds frenetically “dancing” in response to an angry tropical gale doesn’t help much; nor the beach party; or the girls in long frocks (a ubiquitous ingredient in every port of call by Pina Bausch); and the jungle periodically encroaching into this otherwise glamorous, cocktail-drinking, saucy beach towel world could be anywhere around the midriff of the globe.
Better clues come with the bossa nova style of music that infuses an outstanding soundtrack, but one that also extends to the English/US/French influences of Tom Waits, The Tiger Lillies, St Germain, PJ Harvey and others; or perhaps in the giant moving images of the stupendous Iguazu Falls that dominate the climactic minutes. These are images of Brazil but I challenge that anyone’s first thoughts would be of São Paolo, which is the host city for this eighth leg of Tanztheater Wuppertal’s world tour (and the last stop at the Barbican Theatre).
The largest metropolis in Brazil is characterised by many things that are not referenced here: where is the urban sprawl, massive population growth, overcrowded public transport, 10 million motor vehicles, high-rise buildings, the smog, or any reference to the massive gulf between immense riches – it is allegedly home to more billionaires than all but 5 other cities in the world – and intense, street-urchin poverty? And, being 70 kilometres from the sea and 500 miles from the Iguazu Falls places these references to water (_ ‘Água’_) amongst the least obvious symbols for São Paolo. Given the tendency for Bausch to sew the most perceptive and acerbic socio-political commentary into the fabric of her constantly reiterative work, there is a failure to get under the skin of São Paolo (or any other city in Brazil, for that matter) that is so palpable that it has to be deliberate. Instead of a trip to São Paolo, we get a brief holiday in a Sandals resort.
The whole three-hour event is certainly amongst the most joyful of this company’s repertoire with threads of melancholia and bittersweet satire no more than an undercurrent to the prevailing flow of euphoria. Julie Shanahan’s neurotic disbelief that anyone can find any aspect of her attractive is one of the more absorbing themes and she also has one of the most penetrating of several sensuous, seductive, sensational solos; the very best of which comes from the charismatic Cristiana Morganti and the adorably vulnerable Azusa Seyama. The wild-corkscrew-haired Morganti is someone to have around at a party but Seyama is the girl you want to rescue from the corner of the room. Then there is Ditta Miranda Jasjfi, a tiny dynamic dancer, who spends much of the performance being carried, stepping through the air or held aloft as one of Bausch’s horizontal women; the exotic, rippling rhythms of Ruth Amarante – and Anna Wehsarg, a catwalk model with the face of an ever-smiling angel who also, by-the-by, dances sublimely. The men have their equivalents, from the robust, reassuring presence of Andrey Berezin; the comedic warmth of Fernando Suels Mendoza to the lithe athleticism of Eddie Martinez.
There has always been this comfortable familiarity with Bausch’s team and her work. We know the faces and their moves and we expect the constant stream of leit motifs that run through her work. During the interval, someone said that we hadn’t seen anyone smoking yet or had the horizontally-held woman but both were to occur within moments of the restart, almost as if planned as a joke. The ritual attention to haircare and playing with water also featured strongly throughout the images and the episodic sequencing was emphasised even more by rough interruptions between one scene and another.
But, seeing these works in quick back-to-back order, while in one way a feast that we can never hope to be replicated in this lifetime, also has a drawback. There are too many dull and inconsequential moments, which we can easily forgive and forget when the work is fresh, but when it is the eighth gourmet meal in succession then it causes indigestion of the mind. The magical moments appear too few and far between and the works appear increasingly in need of pruning. The tolerance threshold is reduced by this over-exposure. It is certainly not a case of familiarity breeding contempt, but one that highlights the constraints imposed by the reiterative rote that drove this particular production line.
Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch World Cities 2012 continues until 9 July at Sadler’s Wells.
Next performances: Palermo, Palermo 2 July & Wiesenland 8 & 9 Juy.
Returned tickets only: www.sadlerswells.com
Graham Watts writes for many publications including DanceTabs and Dancing Times. He is Chair of the Critics’ Circle Dance Section.
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