Review: Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch - Nefés - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 24 & 25 June 2012
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Monday 25 June 2012

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch 'Nefes' Photo: Zerrin Aydin Herwegh

Performance reviewed: 24 June

We have now reached the seventh stage in this world tour of Bausch: her collection of ten dance theatre works made in collaboration with cultural organisations around the globe. Coincidentally, Nefés was also the seventh of these productions to have been made although for logistical reasons they are not being performed in chronological order. The three still to come in this London 2012 Festival are all from earlier in the series.

Staying with the list compilation – even allowing for the trio of performances yet to come – I confidently expect Nefés to be last on my preferred itinerary of these World Cities. True enough, it carries several magical moments and contains a plethora of familiar motifs and devices from the Bausch catalogue; but this is not enough to compensate for many episodes that fail to inspire. Some – especially in an overlong second half – are dull (a word that I never thought could be associated with the output of this remarkable company). The production is in dire need of an edit, especially after the interval where some sequences take an age to unravel. The remarkable performers of Tanztheater Wuppertal seem to be able to go on forever and – in most shows – the audience has a capacity to match their stamina, even if it takes them into a fourth hour; but in Nefés, it is more a case of never mind the quality, but feel the length. There is at least half-an- hour of material that could hit the cutting room floor and improve the balance of this work into the bargain.

Nefés means “breath” in Turkish and this is a co-production with the Istanbul Theatre Festival and the same city’s Foundation of Arts and Culture. Sundry images of Istanbul are plain to see, beginning with the “hamam” (the Turkish “steam” Bath) that forms the basis of a funny opening scene where Fernando Suels Mendoza gets a much less relaxing experience that he had hoped for; giant images of traffic on a busy Istanbul street bear down on a screaming woman running for her life; and there are several vignettes of a particularly Turkish battle of the sexes, juxtaposing careless men and compliant women. Some are flirtatious escapades (one involving the retrieval and mutual munching of some Turkish Delight hidden in the acoustic panels at the side of the stage); while others depict a more abusive and peremptory relationship predicated by male domination and disdain.

As is common with Bausch’s later work, there is less comedy and speech (excepting the opening hamam scene) and surprisingly there is virtually no breach of the fourth wall in terms of interfacing with the audience. The dance is occasionally spectacular, particularly whenever the lightness of Shantala Shivalingappa is involved. She puts no apparent effort into a jump: it is more a mystical exercise in levitation. Some of the men’s solos are impressively dynamic with as much twirling as the Whirling Dervishes of Istanbul. The work finishes with the typical Bausch device of simple processional dances repeating a pattern of movement, one each for the men and women. Performed to the breathless growling and simple marching beat of Tom Waits’ ‘All the World is Green’, it is easily one of the most effective sequences, even if it takes far too long to get there.

Istanbul has defeated Bausch’s set designer Peter Pabst (as he openly admits in an interview with the film-maker Wim Wenders quoted briefly in the programme). For the most part, the action takes place in a plain black box, very occasionally divided by a curtain onto which images of the sea or the aforementioned Istanbul traffic are projected. Tables, chairs and cushions provide regular props: and, the first act is ended in a remarkable cascade of water – beautifully lit so that it first appears almost solid, like salt.

A pool of water is present through much of the piece, perhaps illustrating the strategic importance of the Bosphorus; or affirming that the majority of any 100 people asked what word should follow ‘Turkish’ are bound to say ‘Bath’; or maybe only as a metaphor for a soggy storyboard that is drowning with too many unresolved ideas.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch World Cities 2012 continues until 9 July at Sadler’s Wells and the Barbican.
Next performances: Agua at the Barbican, 28 & 29 June
Returned tickets only: www.sadlerswells.com and www.barbican.org.uk

Graham Watts writes for many publications including DanceTabs and Dancing Times. He is Chair of the Critics’ Circle Dance Section.

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