Pina Bausch / Tanztheater Wuppertal, Café Muller / The Rite of Spring

Review in Issue 20-2 | Summer 2008

Two classic pieces from the 1970s choreographed by the first lady of tanztheater, Pina Bausch. First up is Café Muller, in which we are expecting to see Bausch herself perform, but due to ‘indisposition’ (as it is says on the oh-so-innocent piece of paper we are handed with our programmes), she does not appear, which is a disappointment, it has to be said.

The piece is typical of Tanztheater Wuppertal’s work of the 70s and 80s. It’s a kind of ballet of the dispossessed: a distracted woman totters dangerously around the stage in high heels; dreamy and disconnected sleepwalkers in white silk gowns forge paths across the space, creating sculptural shapes in interaction with the wooden tables and chairs; said chairs get pulled out, scraped along the floor, chucked around and crashed into heaps by a manic mustachio’d man; a woman throws herself into the arms of a man, he drops her, she does it again, he drops her again, they repeat and repeat, and speed up and speed up and speed up; there’s an offstage/onstage thing going on with a revolving door upstage behind a glass window, people disappearing and reappearing in an endless cycle of obsessive-compulsive actions.

All good stuff, like a live film packed with stunning moving pictures and of course the choreography beautifully enacted. But the problem is that Bausch’s work has been so influential on contemporary dance-theatre that in many ways the piece (30 years on) seems almost to be a parody of itself. This I realise is grossly unfair on the artist – she can’t help it that everyone has copied her – but I find myself (shockingly) a little bored – and longing to see some of her more recent work.

The Rite of Spring (1975) seems to have stood the test of time better than Café Muller, probably because it is a ‘purer’ piece of contemporary dance-theatre, developed at an earlier stage of Bausch’s career, and less reliant on the irony and trademark gestural work that has become such a cliché of contemporary dance. Its connection to later pieces (such as the beautiful Masurca Fogo, seen at Sadler’s Wells a few years ago) is in the breathtaking use of the 30-strong ensemble, the balance between the strength of the group and the drive of the individual played with throughout. The power and beauty of so many bodies on stage! The constantly evolving patterns as dancers flock and separate, weave and flow, forming alliances and oppositions! The geometric shapes that seem to speak to our souls: circles, lines, figures-of-eight, that appear then melt away! And like all her work, it’s a piece of visual art as well as movement theatre: the stage is covered with earth, the dancers dressed in crumpled cream silk with the only ‘prop’ a (menstrual) red diaphanous scarf that is used to coil and caress, restrain and liberate. It’s exhilarating stuff.

It’s good to have the opportunity to see these early works live, but when oh when will Bausch’s work from the past decade come to the UK?

Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Feb 2008

This article in the magazine

Issue 20-2
p. 34