Tanztheater Wuppertal: Sweet Mambo

The penultimate piece created by Pina Bausch, who died in 2009, Sweet Mambo, like most of the choreographer’s work, continues in the company’s repertoire, living on after the demise of its creator. This is due to the dedication of the entire company and its artists, many of whom have worked together for decades, as well as to the efforts of the Pina Bausch Foundation.

Even after such a long time, and despite the absence of the choreographer, it is easy to see how proud the performers are to be part of this work, and their dedication to keep true to its utter essence. In my view, the video recordings of the great works by choreographers such as Bausch are useless (other than serving as documentation). Nothing can compare to the power of the experience of watching a show like Sweet Mambo.

What is most striking in the work of Pina Bausch is the sharpness with which her multi-dimensional creations are produced: how they are orchestrated in their various spatial vectors (vertical and horizontal) and within time; the use of sound; and a sense of drama that transcends the boundaries of tragic and comic.

Like other works of Bausch, Sweet Mambo is infused with sensuality, beauty and striking images that only a creator in the highest degree of maturity, accompanied by interpreters of the same calibre, can conceive. From details like the use of the singular voice of Nazareth Panadero, or the dazzling dresses created by Marion Cito, and the evanescent set design by Peter Pabst, this work captures and impacts us in every minute.

Sweet Mambo has only nine performers, a small number compared to the other works of Bausch post Cafe Muller (1978), yet it is fully loaded with the concept that permeates all her works: the longing for love.

There is no telling to be done about the choreographic construction of this piece, as in so many other of Bausch’s works. Her impeccable signature combined with a fine tuning between performers and creator means that nothing less than the best of each is placed on stage.

The aesthetic revolution undertaken by Pina Bausch since 1973, when she took over the artistic direction of the Tanztheater Wuppertal – is something extraordinary and undeniable.

Despite all this, and despite a certain feeling of ecstasy described by some viewers following the presentation of Sweet Mambo, I dare to say something that perhaps pervades the whole of Bausch’s work: the virtuosity in the use of all elements in a kind of Gesamtkunstverk (the German Romantic concept of a ‘total work of art’) turns this show into a work without risk, which somehow impoverishes it before the current global socio-political scenario.

Perhaps the world is moving on – but it is a joy to have the works of Bausch still here with us.