Review: Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch - Como el musguito - Sadler's Wells
Performance reviewed: 12 June
There’s a moment in Pina Bausch’s final work for the stage, Como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si , that for me neatly sums up how this piece simultaneously is and isn’t representative of the choreographer. A woman stands at the front of the stage, dressed – as is usual in Bausch’s works – in a gorgeous full-length evening gown. A man arrives behind her and begins to lash her, albeit ineffectually, with a slip of soft red fabric. She tells him in a whisper to stop it; he continues. This at first appears to be yet another scene in a decades-long series of Bauschian cruelties; the woman subordinate, exposed to humiliation if not actual pain.
But this time is different – she raises her lovely peach robe above her utterly fabulous jewel-crusted stillettoes, and with a casual flick of the heel whips the red cloth around her ankle and ends the absurd conflict on her own terms. It’s like a bullfight in reverse, the matador skulking off while the bull claims all the style points. It says much about Bausch’s evolution that this moment is both recognisably of her oeuvre – the gown, the heels, the male-female power plays, the sense of display – and yet ends in a much happier place. Not only do Bausch and her dancers seem to be having fun on their last city stop, but for once the women seem to be on top.
Como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si [the title, meaning ‘like moss on a stone, ah yes, yes, yes’ comes from a song used in the work], was created in 2009 following a spell in Santiago de Chile as part of Bausch’s 23-year World Cities project, in which the company took up residency in cities around the world to produce new pieces inspired by each of the locations. The series began with earthy excavations of Rome’s Viktor (seen at Sadler’s last week); Chile seems by contrast to have ushered in a little sunshine.
It all begins in black and white; a woman in a white shirt-dress and with bare feet freezes stock still when passed around by a group of monochrome men, but erupts into blissful arcs of movement when left alone. She is soon joined by a brightly-coloured female ensemble; clad in long frocks they sweep across the stage and arch into deep backbends, casting rocks to the floor as they pass, the weight – quite literally – falling from their shoulders.
This last work has a good ratio of Tanz to theater, each member of the cast receiving at least one joyful solo full of circling limbs, soft falls and airy pirouettes. Company co-director Dominique Mercy’s solo seems to capture the wind, his trousers rippling in the Chilean breeze as he drifts across the stage to the sound of panpipes. Other solos echo aspects of city nightlife, or just the joy of the largely Spanish soundtrack.
The men of the piece appear largely as comedy foils to the women; they treat the female cast as goddesses, helpless in the presence of beauty, comically desperate for a touch or a kiss. Of course, any feminist worth her salt will tell you that the cult of beauty is just another way to subjugate the fair sex; compared to the humiliations borne by the women represented in other Bausch works, however, it feels like Como el musguito..’s ladies are getting off lightly. In the few brief confessional moments in which the cast address the audience, the women appear to be both fully aware of and fully happy with their gendered roles. “Of course I’m feminine!” laughs one.
The particular image of strength through femininity, illustrated by the cloth-wrapping moment, crops up again and again. The statuesque Anna Wehsarg shrugs off a deluge of water poured on her from above by a male dancer – which surely would have been a degrading moment in previous Bausch works – and continues applying her makeup before strutting off looking fabulous. A woman in a beautiful red ballgown tells us as she rumbas with a male partner that she is living in the moment, and enjoying it. Both parts of her statement seem true.
There’s certainly room in my heart for Bausch in her bleaker moods, as the interpreter par excellence of the oppression, cruelty and pain of modern life. But Como el musguito… reminds us of how funny, unpredictable, sweetly silly and downright stunning Bausch’s works could also be.
Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch World Cities 2012 continues until 9 July at Sadler’s Wells and the Barbican
Returned tickets only: www.sadlerswells.com
Lise Smith is a dance manager and teacher, as well as a regular contributor to londondance.com & Arts Professional.
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