When Pina Bausch Made Tanz Into Tanztheater

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lennygoran
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When Pina Bausch Made Tanz Into Tanztheater

Post by lennygoran » Wed Jan 15, 2020 9:54 am

Does This Sound Wild! Len


When Pina Bausch Made Tanz Into Tanztheater

Bausch’s pivotal 1977 work “Bluebeard,” with its relentless gender battles and powerful drama, returns to the stage after a long gap.

By Roslyn Sulcas

Jan. 15, 2020, 5:00 a.m. ET

WUPPERTAL, Germany — The dancers lay in darkness on the floor of a studio here. Although a video was playing, they closed their eyes and focused on listening: to the fervent, intense voices of Bartok’s opera “Bluebeard’s Castle,” and to sounds of breathing, screaming, silence, laughter, sobbing and the sibilance of rustling leaves.

They were listening to a performance of Pina Bausch’s “Bluebeard. While Listening to a Tape Recording of Bela Bartok’s ‘Duke Bluebeard’s Castle,’” created in 1977 and not performed since 1994. For most of the dancers, almost half of whom joined the Wuppertal Tanztheater after Bausch’s death in 2009, these were the sounds of the past. They evoke a world of brutality and tenderness, irrationality and sadness, familiar to anyone who has seen Bausch’s powerfully dramatic, dreamlike works, which have come to define the genre of tanztheater, or dance theater, over the last 40 years.

But when Bausch created “Bluebeard,” there was no concept of tanztheater. This mixture of dance, theater, fragmented music and patchworked scenes was new and a turning point in her career — a departure from straightforwardly expressive dance pieces, like “The Rite of Spring,” which she had created after taking over the Wuppertal company in 1973.

When it was first presented “Bluebeard” astonished and angered many spectators, who were disturbed by Bausch’s stop-and-start use of the score and her relentless depiction of male-female violence. Audiences screamed abuse at the dancers and slammed the doors of the theater as they departed in droves.

“It was wonderful! I loved the struggle between the audience and the dancers,” Jan Minarik, the originator of the Bluebeard role, said. (The work drew similarly violent responses as well as praise, when Tanztheater Wuppertal brought it to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1984 on its first American tour. Arlene Croce, writing in The New Yorker, called Bausch’s work “the pornography of pain.”)

The company had to stop performing the piece in 1994, said Bettina Wagner-Bergelt, the director of Tanztheater Wuppertal, because the Bartok estate — which initially had no complaints — objected to Bausch’s use of the music, which is played on a tape recorder that the Bluebeard figure turns off and on. Now that the score has moved into the public domain in Germany and other places, the work can be performed again. (But not everywhere: Each country has its own copyright laws; France will have to wait another 15 years. England has to wait only till February, when the company will perform it at Sadler’s Wells. )

When the company began thinking about a revival, nobody really knew if “Bluebeard” could be pieced together, Ms. Wagner-Bergelt said. Bausch died in 2009 and “we weren’t sure if people remembered the choreography well, and videos aren’t always reliable.” She enlisted Mr. Minarik and his wife, Beatrice Libonati, who performed the role of Judith soon after joining the company in 1978. Together with Barbara Kaufmann and Helena Pikon, veteran company members, they have painstakingly reconstructed the piece from memory and from film, and taught a new generation of dancers the work.

“It was wonderful! I loved the struggle between the audience and the dancers,” Jan Minarik, the originator of the Bluebeard role, said. (The work drew similarly violent responses as well as praise, when Tanztheater Wuppertal brought it to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1984 on its first American tour. Arlene Croce, writing in The New Yorker, called Bausch’s work “the pornography of pain.”)

The company had to stop performing the piece in 1994, said Bettina Wagner-Bergelt, the director of Tanztheater Wuppertal, because the Bartok estate — which initially had no complaints — objected to Bausch’s use of the music, which is played on a tape recorder that the Bluebeard figure turns off and on. Now that the score has moved into the public domain in Germany and other places, the work can be performed again. (But not everywhere: Each country has its own copyright laws; France will have to wait another 15 years. England has to wait only till February, when the company will perform it at Sadler’s Wells. )

When the company began thinking about a revival, nobody really knew if “Bluebeard” could be pieced together, Ms. Wagner-Bergelt said. Bausch died in 2009 and “we weren’t sure if people remembered the choreography well, and videos aren’t always reliable.” She enlisted Mr. Minarik and his wife, Beatrice Libonati, who performed the role of Judith soon after joining the company in 1978. Together with Barbara Kaufmann and Helena Pikon, veteran company members, they have painstakingly reconstructed the piece from memory and from film, and taught a new generation of dancers the work.

Like the protagonist of Samuel Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape,” Bluebeard is trapped by his memories, stopping the tape to stop time, replaying passages, lines or words or pausing the narrative for long moments. (This extends the hourlong opera into almost two hours of performance.)




“It is a beautiful process the way they have taught people who are brand-new, some very young,” she said. Because many of the Wuppertal dancers are older and can’t perform such a physically demanding piece, they enlisted freelancers and students from the Folkswang University of the Arts to make up part of the ensemble. “We need 12 couples in addition to the central pair, and it demands huge energy and technique, particularly in the partnering,” she said.

In Bausch’s piece the opera’s libretto, by Bela Balazs, forms a loose counterpoint to the actions. The score features just two singers (Bausch used a German-language version with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Hertha Topper), the curious bride Judith, and the homicidal Bluebeard, who is reluctantly persuaded by his new wife to open the locked doors of the castle, until at last his murdered wives are found, frozen in his memory.

In Bausch’s version, the characters and the ensemble represent multiple versions of the couple’s gendered battle, repeatedly enacting the violence, fear, sexual obsession and love that animate the relationship. “All the men are Bluebeard and all the women are Judith,” Ms. Kaufmann said.

The action is set in an empty room with tall French windows and a floor covered in shriveled brown leaves. Here, men and women are yanked roughly along the floor, set upon mercilessly, hurled against walls, swung into the air, piled upon each other’s bodies and forcefully pushed away. It all plays out in endless cycles of repetition. And long, painstaking rehearsals.

At the Lichtburg, a disused cinema where Bausch created pieces for her company, Mr. Minarik and Ms. Libonati took three couples through the sequence in which Judith falls through Bluebeard’s outstretched arms to the floor. (Ten times.)

“Hold, hold — then down!” Ms. Libonati called out, stressing the suspended moment before Judith falls on her back. Although Mr. Minarik said later that there was no literal interpretation of the words, Bausch uses images and content from the libretto to generate movement, here echoing Judith’s plea to enter the castle, or to lie down and perish on its threshold.




His contribution to the piece, he said, was the tape recorder. “I had one in my studio, and we would stop and start it to make the reactions between Judith and Bluebeard clearer,” he said. By incorporating that into the work, Bausch found a new form of structure. Effectively, it’s a precursor to the musical collages that would become a feature of her pieces. At one stroke, she freed herself from both narrative and musical constraints, moving toward the hybrid idiom that would become her signature.

Ms. Libonati said that what’s most difficult to explain about Bausch’s creative process was her gift for “drawing out of people an authentic way to express themselves, so that they believed it from inside and could convince an audience.”



Long-term plans for are hard to make at the moment, though, as the company waits for a legal judgment at the end of January about whether it is obliged to reinstate Adolphe Binder, the former artistic director who was dismissed in 2018 after just one year in the job.

But for now, the focus is on “Bluebeard.” The 1970s were the time when Bausch “tried everything and threw everything away that was there before,” Ms. Wagner-Bergelt said. “She wanted to find her way through the tradition and conventional view of dance, and test how far she could go. I think it was the most courageous piece she ever did.”

This is also the most difficult aspect of transmitting her work, Ms. Kaufmann said. “The first sentence that Jan said to us was that ‘Bluebeard’ isn’t a performance, it’s a state of being. Of course you have to teach the steps, the timing, the form. But something important in Pina’s work is that feelings are very precise too.”

“They tried to let us find our own experience of learning the work, rather than copying from a video,” said Stephanie Troyak, a Canadian-American dancer with the company. “What’s important is the reason behind the steps, and other things too, like a sequence in which the women laugh for a long time. Physically practicing that, allowing yourself to go to a place of hysteria is really interesting if you try to work out where it comes from.”

The movement vocabulary of “Bluebeard” is pivotal in Bausch’s development; it looks back to the ensemble energy of “The Rite of Spring,” and to formal ballet classicism, but also forward to a more naturalistic, expressive, unfinished style, with the entwining, circling arms and mobile upper body that would characterize her mature style.

“The technical aspect is very present,” said Christopher Tandy, a Welsh-born company member who is performing the role of Bluebeard, during a break in the rehearsal. “But for my character, there is a lot of space to travel psychologically and emotionally, a lot of time where Bluebeard is sitting and thinking and feeling.”

And then, he added, Bluebeard has the additional task of operating the sound, stopping, and restarting the music. “You can’t mess that up,” he said with a grimace.

There are other early pieces that the company would love to reconstruct, Ms. Wagner-Bergelt said, including “Renate Emigrates,” “The Piece with the Ship” and “Legend of Chastity.” “Our identity is still about Pina,” she said, adding that generating new work was also important. (Commissions from five choreographers will be presented in June, and more are pending for next season.)

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