I want to be full. I want to see fullness to know that such a performance state is possible. I wonder if since I last saw Pina Bausch’s work, we will both have changed? I remember a sense of overwhelming beauty in her choreography which I am not sure if I can believe in right now. How do you treat a legend? I’d like to think that you treat legends like your next-door neighbour, via rare encounters outside or through walls and you build the rest of their mystery up in your head.
Two Cigarettes in the Dark.
Exotic foliage behind elevated glass makes me smile. Sand makes me wonder and the empty, painted white space leaves me hoping. An unexpected, exquisite ball gown arrives on a slender form. I believe. Sweep me along.
But her words are hysterical even though her dancing body is so inescapably refined. I notice her bare feet and elegance becomes dishevelled. An icon becomes poverty-stricken. I have no time for her hysterical, house-bound, space-bound women.
The matriarch of the piece tells us about fucking angels. She possesses a dirty, divine knowledge and yet she still pacifies under male power. The male hits and lashes out so that you recoil. The male exposes your chest from within the scarlet party frock.
Cower and then mime pissing.
Get on all fours and get up again.
My heart breaks.
There are traumatised shrieks and a smiling, raping man. She cleans their mess with a blood-coloured cloth.
How will this be resolved? Is what I am watching a critique or a continuation of such stark gender roles? Bouncy, empty party sex is a moment met with laughs from the auditorium. Am I taking this all too seriously?
Then there are the recurring screams.
A golden queen is pulled onto stage on a golden rug. Will this new presence indicate a future beyond hysteria? A man sits beside her and performs stretches and yoga. His mobility meets her stasis. His revealed tone, her lace suffocation, and then, an axe to her beautiful head.
The encounters on stage between the men are more delicate, less extreme and they are afforded some subtlety. There is space, stillness and images that surprise: a rock in a pocket, a man exchanging heels for scuba diving flippers and bathing in the aquarium.
Women on the other hand are constantly led someplace, repositioned where they don’t want to be. More often than not, they need help walking with a masculine arm serving as a prop-up.
At times, she is so passive that he has to fetch a rope.
What destiny has Bausch carved out? What fate lies for her characters and for us?
A man tries to recapture exhaled smoke and I see him not admitting the past and not permitting the future.
There is a loneliness that I believe. There is a weight and a tugging that I empathise with. Her legs fall apart and he corrects her back into modesty.
While watching, I am puzzling between gender roles and watching masterful beauty. Can you have both or does it mean that the bleak problem of women being presented in their extremes while the men are in drag is allowed to slip past? Is the result only that loaded, uncomfortable moments become neutralised and therefore permissible?
Bausch’s images constantly expire; characters exit prematurely, activities transform and a couple involved in a recoil/seduction are shot in the jungle. The work is made up of a series of events and framed within a decadent space housing ball gowns, tuxedoes, silks, suits and furs. I am unsure to whom this decadence belongs. I feel disconnected from it and am uncomfortable about the ideal it is portraying. Images are thrown away like champagne is knocked back at a party and the effect is drunkenness, which implies that we won’t remember. The portrayal of such destructive gender roles is something that we must remember and yet, the humour and perishing imagery is indicating that all my worry is quite unnecessary.
For once, a woman just stands. I am allowed at last to rejoice in her unaffected presence. A man enters wearing the opening exquisite ball gown and I think, “Scene stealer!”
Can a beautiful thing ever just be beautiful? For instance, a man in flippers standing in 1st position, or another trying his utmost to take flight. These are moments where I wear such a contented smile.
As the work goes on, I solve my puzzle. A woman tells us that she is a ‘lovely, sweet, little thing’ and I realise that rather than anger, confusion or disbelief, Bausch’s perception of such divided gender roles saddens me. Her portrayal of such poles of experience and differing presences makes me really hope that the work is not true. If the truth about men and women is any of the above or a man saying, ‘I don’t give a shit’ while a woman stuffs her face and pets her loneliness, then I cannot be anything but hopeless.
The relentlessness of these explorations and statements from one of the most influential and masterful choreographers of our time not only has a nostalgic, gilded edge, but demands attention and I don’t know how much you can rewrite her. Where was she in all of this?
Vivid, debauched, barren and beautiful, Two Cigarettes in the Dark and Bausch’s legacy continues.
Director and Choreographer: Pina Bausch
Set Design: Peter Pabst
Costume Design: Marion Cito
Musical Collaboration: Matthias Burkert
Dramatic Advisor: Raimund Hogue
Rehearsal Directors: Bénédicte Billet and Dominique Mercy
Performers: Mechthilld Großmann, Daphnis Kokkinos, Eddie Martinez, Dominique Mercy, Thusnelda Mercy, Helena Pikon/Anna Wehsarg, Franko Schmidt, Juli Shanahan, Michael Strecker/Andrey Berezin, Aida Vainieri, Tsai-Chin Yu
Music: Claudio Monteverdi, Ludwig van Beethoven, Maurice Ravel, Hugo Wolf, Henry Purcell, Ben Webster, Renaissance music
Technical Director: Manfred Marczewski
Lighting Director: Fernando Jacon
Sound: Andreas Eisenschneider
Premiere 31 March 1985, Schauspielhaus Wuppertal