Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: 1980

Image credit: Ulli WeissImage credit: Ulli Weiss

I arrive not sure that this piece should even be “reviewed”.  If, indeed, any of the work of Bausch should be reviewed at all right now. Pina Bausch has been dead nearly four years, and in that time it feels like she has been undergoing the process of becoming an icon in a way that is not possible for the living. Her work is moving into becoming dance history, a moving, dancing archive that is on the cusp of change. Before I went to the theatre to see 1980, my Facebook wall had been filled with reverential love for both the woman and her work. I am thinking about the Graham company, or the Cunningham company, or Alvin Ailey and what companies choose to do once the artist who shaped them so completely, dies. The Wuppertal Ballet existed before Bausch was appointed in 1973, but it was Bausch who renamed it Tanztheater Wuppertal and who transformed it.

“The difficulty was not the decisions, as such, but making those decisions without Pina. For a company whose director had been the heart and soul of the enterprise for so many years, it took time to find a way to work without her… They had to learn how to get from one day to another. Only now is it clear that we want to present new work…”  Lutz Förster, artistic director, in an interview with Jenny Gilbert

So in this context, what is the purpose now of a “review”? My words are no longer interacting with a living piece of performance in the sense that this work is now a kind of art object. Many, many things have already been written about this work since it premiered in 1980. It is an art object that will continue to speak to and interact with the context and the time that it is being shown; Bausch’s aesthetic has always been nostalgically out of time, her interest always strictly with the human, and so her works exist a little outside of time.  Some other kind of writing is more useful perhaps?

I went. I couldn’t resist the ticket in the stalls that I was given by Sadler’s Wells, nor could I resist being sucked into the recognisably surreal world of child-hood games and death played out in a sunny meadow for three-and-a-half -hours. So here are some words. Some more words.

Time. 1980 takes time, repeats time and stretches time. Everything is given its time. Nothing is rushed. Not even the moments of hysterical running are rushed, nothing is over too soon. Time to pour tea into china cups for the audience, and time for the audience members to drink them. Time for games. There is time for everything. 1980, like many of Bausch’s other works, is a series of moments between people, of atmospheres and miniature events, each tiny narrative adding up to a whole. I am now trying to think of what else I could watch for this long without a linear narrative arc to stop my attention from wandering. I cannot think of anything. I ask someone else, and they suggest music. And perhaps it is like music – this carefully crafted rhythm, the repetition, the swells of atmospheres and crests of not quite placeable emotion. I feel my attention span lengthening with each moment, 1980 has the opposite effect of a youtube marathon. I leave having momentarily lost my urge to check my email whilst I sit on the loo.

Bums. Mostly male bums. Small acts of humiliation and care. Sunbathing beneath a warm lighting rig, dancers stripping down like sunbathers in a city park, exposing as much flesh to the heat as is socially acceptable. Foreign-ness. A matter-of-factness, even in the over-blown. Many of the women’s dresses are always slightly too big. They swim a little in their reams of satin, fragile looking children playing dress-up.

And in all these timelessness, a fear of death and dying. Extinction like the dinosaurs. Acts of goodbye. A fear of the dark, of the void, finished, never more. Real flames on real matches stuck between real toes. Real porridge being really eaten. Real exhaustion catching up with a woman skipping and singing what is at first an unreal statement of fact, “I am tired. I am tired. I am tired. I am tired.” . Tricks of the trade. The bizarre tinge of discomfort – or disappointment? – that I feel as the Sadler’s Wells technicians enter to move a platform or a small piano, puncturing this carefully created, hypnotic world. Real grass, plastic deer. Old stage lights turned off at the edge of the meadow.  The dancers recounting memories and admitting fears, that unless they were in the original cast, are not their own. An ageing gymnast. Scenes of parent and child, of care, changing as the performer ages within their role. Performers ageing with their roles, or leaving and others, younger performers filling them and changing it again. A magician performs for us. He appears pleased with his tricks. He can make things disappear and reappear. The real and the not real.



Director and Choreographer: Pina Bausch

Set Design: Peter Pabst

Costume Design: Marion Cito

Dramatic Advisor: Raimund Hoghe

Collaboration: Hans Pop

Dancers: Regina Advento, Ruth Amarante, Lutz Förster, Silvia Farias Heredia, Mechthild Großmann, Barbara Kaufmann, Ditta Miranda Jasjfi, Daphnis Kokkinos, Eddie Martinez, Nazareth Panadero, Helena Pikon, Jean-Laurent Sasportes, Franko Schmimdt, Azusa Seyama, Julie Shanahan, Julie Anne Stanzak, Michael Strecker, Fernando Suels Mendoza, Tsai-Chin Yu

Magician: Reiner Rothe

Violin: Robin Brightman

Harmonium: Joachim Bärenz

Gymnast: Peter Sandhoff

Music: John Dowland, John Wilson, Ludwig van Beethoven, Claude Debussy, Johannes Brahms, Edward Elgar, Francis lai, benny Goodman, Comedian Harmonists

Artistic Director: Lutz Förster

Rehearsal Directors: Bénédicte Billiet, Dominique Mercy

Technical Director: Manfred Marczewski

Lighting Director: Fernando Jacon

Lighting Assistant: Jo Verlei

Sound: Andreas Eisenschneider, Karster Fischer

Stage Manager: Felicitas Willema

Stage Technician: Dietrich Röder

Props: Arnulf Eichholz

Wardrobe: Harald Boll, Silvia Franco, Ulrike Schneider