Pina Bausch led dance towards its conceptual frontier.  While some twentieth century choreographers pushed the human body to physical extremes, she extended its psychological, intellectual and emotional range.  Her dancers speak, run, conjure, play party games, and sometimes dance very beautifully, but it is the underlying meaning of her work that drives 1980.

The entire stage, grassed over and decorated with a single toy deer, a piano, spotlights and two rubbish bins is the setting for a series of manic birthday party events, in which adults chant songs and repeat games over and over, slowly mesmerising the audience.  In the second act, it is the scene of a bizarre garden fete, complete with beauty contest.  Nothing is quite as it seems, and everything has an extra layer of significance.  Is the guest politely leaving the party with a formal farewell to every member of the cast going home, or going to die?  Is the food that is eaten mouthful by mouthful “pour maman” … “pour papa” a reward or a punishment?  Acts of apparent kindness are contradicted by the thread of cruelty that runs below the surface.  Gender is blurred and there is ambivalence about where childhood ends and adulthood begins.

The dancing is hypnotic.  It is compelling when four members of the cast advance downstage through a scene of chaos, each carefully placing one foot in front of the other;  or when a procession of exquisitely dressed dancers  snakes across the front of the stage and into the Stalls, meticulously repeating a sequence in perfect harmony.

The love of outdoors, the relaxed attitude to stripping off in public, the freedom combined with rigorous social rules all feels very Teutonic to the English eye.  But this work is not about one particular nation or period in time.  The point is surely that the fears that trouble us as children become our anxieties as adults and the preoccupations of society as a whole.  Our personal dreams are also our shared myths, and we may grow up, but we never grow out of them.

Maggie Watson

15 February 2014

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