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

Performance: 6 & 7 June 2012
Reviewed by Jeffrey Gordon Baker - Thursday 7 June 2012

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch 'Viktor' as part of World Cities 2012 at Sadler's Wells. Photo: Bettina Strenske

Reviewed performance: 6 June

The work of Pina Bausch – who died suddenly, aged 68, in 2009 – oscillates between the glamorous and the profane. For nothing is sacred in her realm. The dancers are beautiful and they smile and flirt charmingly with the audience and each other, then head upstage to take down their knickers and squat for a wee. Dressed to the nines, they make steamy sexual advances and then grope one another like perverts freed of societal constraints. At Wednesday’s performance of Viktor , a little dog brought on stage for a cameo in a scene set in an auction house, started to casually hump his companion pooch on the auctioneer’s table. This unscripted carnal act elicited howls of laughter from the audience and even the dancer in charge of the pup briefly lost her composure. But the gesture could have been choreographed by Bausch herself. The contrast of base animal impulse on display in a scene of opulent indulgence, felt entirely appropriate in this netherworld of duplicitous depravity, in which attraction often devolves into desperation, and sexuality is used almost exclusively as coercion, currency or violence.

Viktor was created in 1986 and ushered in a new way of working for Bausch and her Tanztheater Wuppertal company. Having been invited by the Teatro Argentina in Rome to make a work inspired by the city, Bausch said that this commission transformed her process. She and the company went on to make nine more pieces using material gathered during their explorations of world cities – including São Paulo, Budapest, Los Angeles and Hong Kong – as inspiration. But significantly she always maintained a focus on her own thematic preoccupations. The texts of these city landscapes and cultural encounters provided a refreshing artifice through which to filter her perennial impulse to lay bare the politics of desire. Indeed, the nuance of nearly every interpersonal human impulse seems to be affectionately but brutally touched upon, confronted, exaggerated and served up raw with a rutilant smile.

More than inspirational celebration, the overall tone of Viktor is a complex critique of Italian society. The landscape is familiar: the preening and posturing of both women and men, the big breasted mother figures, older men with younger trophy-women, food offered as a greeting (in this case buttered rolls to the audience), passionate shouting arguments and the fetishisation of fashion. However, Bausch skirts stereotype by muddying her idioms. Her troupe of multinational dancers and their tapestry of ethnicities are a start, but music and languages are mixed as well. English is used throughout, but also Italian and French, and although there is plenty of Italian music, there are also, incongruously, a Bolivian folk song, Tchaikovsky and Irving Berlin’s Puttin’ on the Ritz.

The specifics of the city-as-subject matter are obscured to allow us to see the universal within them. And these universal concerns are decidedly dark, or more generously: playfully pessimistic. Women are glorified and then discarded; they are carried unceremoniously by the crotch and then plopped down like furniture, indeed they appear as clothes racks and as lavatory fixtures. A woman draped with towels is compelled to spit water like a tap in which men wash their faces and feet. Clusters of men of various ages in designer suits mill about, mostly sizing up and taking possession of these women, but also occasionally falling prey themselves to a rogue female predator. A woman cradling a smaller man in her arms crosses the stage, pausing momentarily to ask him how much money he makes.

Viktor is set in a moribund world, saturated by images of death. The stage often seems strewn with corpses and Peter Pabst’s set is a grave-like trench into which dirt is continually being shovelled, making the dancers’ actions appear all the more desperate, performed with the awareness that they are being buried alive. What dancing there is comes across like the repetitive and lurching motions of zombies.

As in most of Bausch’s oeuvre Viktor is vast. Its component parts are fairly simple, but its scope monumental. For example, two chunks of stone that reappear as props throughout the piece, variously thrown or dropped on the stage floor, handed to audience members for inspection and placed on display; these stones seem to represent stolen fragments of ancient ruins or the fossilised gonads of forgotten patriarchs. Near the end a woman covers her eyes with these symbolic rocks and lets out a series of bloodcurdling screams, howls of personal despair, heralding the impending demise of a civilisation.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch World Cities 2012 continues until 9 July at Sadler’s Wells and the Barbican
Returned tickets only: www.sadlerswells.com

Jeffrey Gordon Baker took part in this year’s Resolution! Review – The Place’s online magazine which includes reviews of every Resolution! show, by professional dance critics and aspiring writers. From New York, he’s in London studying for a PhD in Aesthetic Theory at Birkbeck College, University of London.
Photos: Bettina Strenske

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