Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch – Ahnen – Sadler’s Wells, April 26th 2015

What a disappointment. Especially after last week’s memorable and thought-provoking “Gebirge”. Where that piece was bleak, moving, involving, a howl of human emptiness, Ahnen was nothing compelling and nothing powerful. Ill-knit and aimless, it was perhaps the biggest waste of three hours I have ever spent watching anything. Halfway through act II I could barely bring myself to take any more notes, and at the end, to collate them.)

Indulge me (as Tanztheater Wuppertal asked for last night) as I compile A List of Things That Happen in Ahnen:

  • a woman is “bathed”/rubbed with bits of bread by attendant men.
  • a woman (Ruth Amarante?) buries herself in hay and emerges, repeatedly
  • It “rains” on some plastic sheeting twice.
  • a woman lies in a tank of water and plays the melody to O Mio Bambino Caro with one finger whilst she sings along.
  • Michael Streker washes a life-size walrus with a broom. Later he climbs inside it and tells a joke about a moth.
  • Christiana Morganti tells a monologue about flies buzzing.
  • A woman shoves both heels of her stiletto heels in her mouth and walks around with them there.
  • a woman (maybe Ruth again) builds a wall.
  • Azusa Seyama tells a story to over the sound of a Japanese children’s song about a steam train.
  • a massive fan blows detritus across the stage and blows right at Jean Laurent Sasportes who is dressed as a bizarre Indian chief, his headress a tutu.
  • a guy flies a model helicopter around the stage.
  • Another woman uses a pneumatic drill on a rock,
  • Aida Vainieri walks around in a red dress a lot.
  • a man dressed in a kilt and punk skirt brings a barre onstage and hangs from it, imitating a monkey and spits pieces of apple all over.
  • a man is goaded to jump through a hoop into a wall

and so on and so on, to little cumulative artistic purpose. I found it all unedifying in the extreme. One could quip that it was theater on peyote, but really it was just rather boring.

In the mind of madness. Bausch's Tanztheater Wuppertal in Ahnen at Sadler's Wells

In the mind of madness. Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal in Ahnen at Sadler’s Wells

That said, intimations of purpose suggested themselves sporadically, (and no – “it’s supposed to be weird and non linear” is no defence. there is a difference between intended non-sequitur and messy concepts.)

Some lady ironing, Julie Anne Stanzak mashing soap, Julie Shanahan washing socks (I think?) domesticity seems a theme here, always shown with woman. Partnerships dissolve: A man and woman (Dominique Mercy and Nazareth Panadero) mime a fight in ever-growing outlandish violence. Entrails are drawn, eyes plucked, a head beaten with an arm. (Marital bliss this ain’t). A slow dance begins act II, taken like a defile almost: couples moving upstage in a line across the stage, the men facing the audience, the women mute and almost effaced. Streker particularly menacing here. The Patriarchy advances.

One man went to sew. (Photo credit needed)

One man went to sew. (Photo credit needed)

And indeed, is perverted, inverted, glanced askance at: a group of women bring a foot-operated sewing machine onstage, and giggle flirtatiously as a man runs yards of fabric through it. A woman shoots at walzting couples. A moment of tendrese: a man and woman in a huge long trained ballgown embrace amidst chaos. Once again Bausch suggests not merely that one species of Hell is other people, it is often instead one’s “other half”.

Habanera live. Notice the painted eyelids. Thank God I had binoculars.

Habanera live. Notice the painted eyelids. Thank God I had binoculars.

A few other moments which worked: The real-time translation of Carmen’s “Habanera” was genuinely funny as was the man who stands centre stage in a spotlight and reads his future engagements to us, He is free next Monday, most of next week, the next month and in fact all of 2016. This is sad, but for many people, quite real I guess. One senses this man just a terrible loner.

At the start and close Dominique Mercy gestures to himself and his mouth, lost in animal-like ipseity. One senses that some of these actors are in fact free only in the Sartrean sense, to be condemned – to domesticity, futility, mediocrity.  In one part, each dancer is doing their own thing, rictus dancing, flopping, hand jiving, burying in hay. At an instant they all stop and each trudges offstage. One concludes that like the Diary Man, “we are each of us alone” – perhaps another type of Hell: that our connections and interaction are fleeting and empty. Had connections here been more keenly drawn – or indeed present at all – I would have been more engaged. As it was, one also concluded that, by God, this wasn’t quite worth it, at all. A real shame.

LINKS:

Tanztheater Wuppertal Ensemble

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