como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si… – Tanztheater Wuppertal – Sadler’s Wells – February 14 2016

Bausch’s final piece (loosely translated as “Like moss on a stone, ah yes yes yes”) celebrates her dancers’ capabilities in extended solos, but fails to knit together into a satisfying whole.

Bauschean elements permeate the show, with a few video effects which are well used. The stage (Peter Pabst) moves apart and together in fractured pieces, like a jigsaw which (unlike the show itself) knits together seamlessly, and then pulls apart. One can fruitfully read ideas of dislocation, physical separation and divorce into it, these tectonic monoliths as shorthand for selves which never can know another, except to abut their neighbour – but mainly the set was just merely interesting, and the dancing rather the same.

A list of things that happen in “como el…”

  • A woman is carried around screaming. Later she stands bolt upright and is carried gracefully from man to man.
  • The same woman is tied to a point in the wings and runs towards a point tracing plaintive, yearning arcs as she goes.
  • A man strings a rope across the stage from diagonal to corner and monkeys across it upside down. Another man follows.
  • A woman (Anna Wehsarg) applies makeup as a man pours water over her from a bottle.
  • A woman (Clémentine Deluy) sings a scale each time she is lifted up from behind. When tickled in a certain place, she lets out a specific noise.
  • A guy (Pablo Aran Gimeno) struts around in red heels with naked hairy legs.
  • A girl struts around in parody of a catwalk, with a skirt made from men’s shirts.
  • A man lays on the stage and pulls a jacket over his head. Another joins him and catches the jacket to repeat the movement, three of them slowly traversing the stage.
  • A woman is served a fine meal, and waits until the server has gone, then sneaks under the table and devours it, tipping water from the glass on the table into her mouth.
  • A man (Fernando Suels Mendoza) obsessively kisses a woman (Anna Wehsarg)’s hand. Later he amusingly comments on each woman who enters the stage in the same over-the-top, dog-on-heat terms.
  • A man throws potatoes which women catch in their skirts. Later a woman throws corks at a guy.
  • A woman and a man walk backwards together across the stage, the woman holding her skirt. The woman flings her skirt up and they embrace. Dust falls over them, leaving a positive shadow on the stage. They leave.
  • A woman takes a fish for a walk.
  • All the women onstage bend backwards and release stones from their hands and repeat the movement many times
  • A woman says how pretty she looks, with her blonde hair and blue eyes, yet she is the exact opposite of her description.
  • A woman (Clémentine Deluy) carries a tree on her back.
  • A woman lies on two men as she orders them to do sit-ups then press-ups then “back-ups”.

All women are in beautiful bespoke dresses made by Marion Cito, and as usual their hair is gorgeous. Whatever Pina’s haircare routine for her dancers was, deserves to be a wider known thing.
To end Act one, two lines form, women as one, men as one, facing front. They begin a Bauschean intricate hand-jive, and as the music fades, they reveal themselves to be merely counting one two three, one two three, one two three, our illusion of repeated precision and silent skilled art thus broken. Bausch’s skill was to always strip away pretension, or to expose it as absurd. To end Act Two, we see the same movements as from Act One, a man and girl’s embrace torn apart by angry running groups and the girl carried around, to end on all fours. The circle of reference was complete, but I would have enjoyed more stronger content within that circle.

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photo by Zerrin Aydin Herwegh

All the above happens to a largely Latin soundtrack (picked by Matthias Burkert and Andreas Eisenschneider,) which contains the contemplative sounds of Chilean musician Violeta Parra and guitarist Victor Jara. I gather that the song of the work’s title is by Parra called ‘Volver a los 17‘ (To be 17 Again) and that, well, love is like moss which grows on a stone. The song of the same was, I think danced to by Ditta Miranda Jasjfi. I struggled to hear some of the spoken text above the music, which was disappointing, but like life, information gets lost: it’s the nature of entropy. There is realisation of vapidity (the blue eyes routine, a man and a woman who are blindfolded and the woman takes photos,) pathos (the woman chained,) comedy (Mendoza chatting up the girls,) futility (potatoes, tree carrying,) and the bizarre (Magrite like fish walking, makeup applying). Is this not a glimpse of life at its absurd extremes? Or art suggesting that in its mundanities life is absurd?

Punctuating “como el” are the long solos to songs which to felt democratic in their dancing (Bausch perhaps showcasing her dancers’ talents, and her love for them) but which felt apart from the show itself – as absurd as it may seem to wish for unity among this chaos of tropes and incidents. Elsewhere in Bausch’s works, her trademark melange of ideas and encounters somehow becomes suggestive, hinting at much or forcefully probing at a theme from different angles. “como el” didn’t have this quality and felt a little aimless.

My favourite moments were two: a line of all the dancers forms, they laid in between each other’s legs with their backs on each other’s chests. They slowly sat backwards and stroked each other’s hair. Beatific smiles from all, some genuinely blissful I think. And secondly, a lady who briefly parodied famous ballet moments, include a really cute few seconds of Odette’s solo variation from Act 2 Swan Lake, and Act 3, the music supplied by herself as she sung and danced. Her “sylph jumps” from Act 2 solo were actually lovely, and her Drigo-esque singing for Act 3’s brief pique turns really fun.

 

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Photo by Tristam Kenton for the Guardian

And so too only two of the solos worked well for me. Veteran Basuchean Dominique Mercy‘s tai-chi inflected solo felt a little overlong but Jonathan Fredrickson‘s was brief yet beautiful. He is a rangy dancer with beautiful long lines charting great arcs of beauty and calm definition, and Gimeno was not strutting this time but dancing in scything, mobile rhythm, his torso fluid and arms frenetic in movement tracing a quiet grace all of his own. And of the pas for two, there was only one which stood out, the dance for a woman in a gold coloured dress and her man was a success. Running  jumps caught, twirls of abandon: a narrative of appreciable grace. Memorable too was when each man carried a woman onstage so that she looked to have long, black legs, but all these remained only moments.

Its true that this is a piece of tanztheater sunnier, brighter in tone, more optimistic and light-hearted than other Bausch pieces. Sadly, the brief moments of humane honesty only hinted at truths and depths. I hope next year the company brings a stronger piece to Islington (Vollmond perhaps?).Here’s hoping.

NOTES

The Wuppertal page lists music by:

Cecilia, Congreso, Rodrigo Covacevich, Victor Jara, Magdalena Matthey, Mecánica Popular, Violeta Parra, Chico Trujillo, Mauricio Vivencio
The Alexander Balanescu Quartett, Bonobo, Cinematic Orchestra, Count Basic, Carl Craig & Moritz von Oswald, Matthew Herbert, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Jean Pierre Magnet, Russel Mills, Daniel Melingo, Madeleine Peyroux, David Sylvian, Amon Tobin, Manuel Wandji, Bugge Wesseltoft, Alexander Zekke

and Performers as

Pablo Aran Gimeno, Rainer Behr, Damiano Ottavio Bigi, Clémentine Deluy, Silvia Farias Heredia, Jonathan Fredrickson, Ditta Miranda Jasjfi, Nayoung Kim, Eddie Martinez, Dominique Mercy, Thusnelda Mercy, Morena Nascimento, Azusa Seyama, Fernando Suels Mendoza, Anna Wehsarg, Tsai-Chin Yu.

 

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