I am 21, standing in a long queue outside Paris del Ville waiting for a ticket to see my first Pina Bausch work. That morning I am lucky, I get a seat right at the back of the theatre, but I don’t care I’m in. The curtain opens, the stage is massive, and lying on its side is an immense shipwreck, creaking, breathing, signalling to us all that were about to descent into a world beyond words. The world of smoke, wind, rain and elegant silken gowns. In this world there is a sort of shamanic resonance that speaks to our very underbelly. Pina called it dance theatre, and for the first few years as the artistic director of the Opera ballet in the industrial German town of Wuppertal she was known as that vampiric artist, with little classical repertoire. In fact for the first few years her company was criticised for the intensity of her work, but she didn't really mind.
"It is almost unimportant whether a work finds an understanding audience. One has to do it because one believes that it is the right thing to do. We are not only here to please, we cannot help challenging the spectator."
But the criticism didn't last long. The more she created, the more dancers flocked to this little town. Her ensemble included dancers from Germany, the US Brazil, Argentina, Russia, France India and Australia. Like a queen, like a mother, like a guru she would allow them to move, express their very nature. She would asks questions about parents, childhood, feelings, the use of objects, dislikes, aspirations. From their answers she developed a gestures repertoire.
Enter dance as the language of emotion and its resonance through self and other. Her language is mystical, feral, tender and daring. There is no dissonance between who she was and what she believed to be important to create. A moving feast where nothing really makes sense but you feel like you've arrived back home. Pina died in 2009. I was lucky enough to see two more of her works in her home town. Ironically, she becomes Wuppertal's main calling card, with her photo plastered in every tourist brochure. Everybody in Wuppertal knew who she was. In the end she spoke to us all. The baker, the grandmother, the waitress, and artist, because we all know what it’s like to be human and to see that reflected back to us as an affirmation of existing.
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