Kontakthof – A Conversation

Review in Issue 22-2 | Summer 2010

Alexander Roberts and Dorothy Max Prior discuss Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch’s Kontakthof as seen at Barbican BITE.

AR: First response – I just fell in love with the performers and despite the fact that none of them were under the age of 65, I could not help but find them sexy. There was nothing grotesque or aggressive in the way that this arrived at me, even if the imagery itself was at times very violent. They carried an anarchic childishness about them which went straight to my heart…

DMP: Interesting! It is still pretty rare to see older bodies on stage and certainly very rare to have the sexuality of older people addressed! And yes, Kontakthof is very much about ‘how do I look?’ and the mating game, so the sexual presence of the performers is key. The way Pina Bausch frames each person, and the games she gives the group to play, makes you really look, really see what is there. So yes, sex oozed from the stage! Two dozen people who’ve lived, there before us... acting parts but ‘transparent’ so that their real selves shine through... The version for teens, in contrast, felt sexless. The teens performed Pina Bausch’s choreography beautifully and articulately. Yet all the time, it felt like watching children who’ve raided the dressing up box ‘acting out’ the conventions of courtship – it was fake, deeply ironic. Perhaps that was the point, but it made me feel uncomfortable.

AR: I didn’t see the version for teens, but I think there is an element of awkwardness in a lot of young people when it comes to sexuality. Older people maybe learn to use games to reveal themselves. Of course we are led to infer something quite specific from the content in relation to the age of the performers, for example in the scene with the rocking horse. I found that incredibly revealing and full of so many different meanings.

DMP: Ah yes the rocking horse... well, it was very different in the version for the teens! Teenager girls begging for 10ps to feed an electric rocking horse ride, then the sexy image of the girl riding the horse whilst the others queued and looked on longingly (I’ll have what she’s having....’) highlighted adolescence as the muddled space between childlike and adult pleasures. So it worked, yeah, but the older women going through the same set of actions was far funnier, more poignant, and more interesting, in my book… One thing I wanted to ask you is this: how did you respond to Pina Bausch’s work as a 23-year-old who has grown up on theatre directly or indirectly influenced by Bausch? Do you feel it is all stuff you’ve somehow seen, even though you hadn’t actually seen her work before?

AR: Well Kontakthof is seminal for me. I felt almost primed to see this piece. I had a feeling that the performance language was something I was familiar with and ready to read. This was not only a performance language I felt I could read, but also a performance language I have also utilised and been influenced by as an artist. There was a sense that we were having the space itself revealed to us by the movement of the ensemble. That most of all, this performance was a reconstruction of space and place, which in turn captures and holds the people within it – a landscape (literally: a ‘sculpted land’).

DMP: And what of Kontakthof remains with you, a few weeks later?

AR: What I saw in Kontakthof was many of my own personal experiences of life being mirrored back at me by a cast of over-65s. Perhaps this was because I saw the work at a time when topics surrounding age, life, death and loss were all very poignant to me. (I was seeing Kontakthof very soon after my grandfather passed away.) The performers laid so much of themselves bare. Ultimately, I felt as though I left knowing many of the performers on a personal level, meeting people who had been and seen and done many things I am yet to even be aware of.

Alexander Roberts and Dorothy Max Prior both saw Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch’s Kontakthof for Ladies and Gentlemen over 65, and Dorothy Max Prior additionally saw Kontakthof for Teenagers Aged 14–19, at the Barbican Theatre, London, April 2010 as part of BITE 2010.

Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Apr 2010

This article in the magazine

Issue 22-2
p. 33