Pina Bausch died quite suddenly in 2009. It was a shock to most in the dance world and was the occasion for an outpouring of recollections and writing of various kinds. Sydney’s Spring Dance program, now in its third year, made its contribution with almost its entire program devoted in some way or another to the legacy of Bausch. A major highlight was Pina: a celebration, two days of talks and films hosted by journalist and broadcaster Caroline Baum.
In terms of format, Pina: a celebration comprised three sessions, ‘Keys to your soul’, ‘Pina’s children’ and ‘Muscle memory’. Each was held in the Playhouse at the Sydney Opera House and began with a conversation between Baum and her invited guests. On each occasion the conversation was followed by a film screening.
Although a major focus of the event was, to my mind anyway, on setting Bausch and her work within an Australian context, Bausch was absolutely central to the occasion and eclipsed most other aspects of the event. One of the unexpected highlights was a small snippet of footage shot in 1982 by Scott Hicks for a documentary on the 1982 Adelaide Festival at which Bausch and her company appeared. How warm and friendly Bausch seemed. And how cunningly she avoided the issue of how to describe her works by telling instead an amusing story about Alfred Hitchcock.
We saw Bausch again almost forty years later in ‘Dancing Dreams’, a documentary made in 2010 by Anne Linsel and Rainer Hoffmann on the creation of a new version of Kontakthof, a work Bausch first made in 1978 and which was seen in Australia in Adelaide in 1982.
In this new production Bausch used teenagers over the age of fourteen as her entire cast. Bausch watched rehearsals for this show we would occasionally see a smile break out on her now lined but always expressive face. There was again a sense of warmth and tenderness from the woman who was once accused of being a ‘theatre terrorist’ and making works that were the ‘raw pulp of abuse’.
The other two films were Pina Bausch made, again by Anne Linsel, in 2006, and Life in Movement made in 2010 by Bryan Mason and Sophie Hyde on the work of Tanja Liedtke. While both offered much insight, and Life in Movement in particular is an important addition to our knowledge of Liedtke’s creativity, both were at times a little subjective making them seem a tad too long. Not so with Dancing Dreams where the spoken words were forthright and honest, where the cast was able to be self critical and the young people able to analyse the role they were playing in the creative process, not to mention the effect that process was having on them. It was very refreshing,
In the conversations with Baum, three of the five guests were Australians whose work had been influenced in one way or another by Bausch: Michael Whaites, Kate Champion and Shaun Parker. What instantly stood out was the sense of objectivity they were able to bring out in their comments and answers to Baum’s questions. After the reverential tone of Bausch’s dancers in the Linsel film Pina Bausch, it was invigorating to hear something a little more down to earth. Whaites in particular, the only one of the three who had worked in close proximity to Bausch, spoke of the need to maintain just a little distance in dealing with life in Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal. And on another Australian note, Dancing Dreams afforded us the pleasure of watching Jo Ann Endicott, an Australian dancer who has been with Bausch since 1973, in her role as co-rehearsal director (along with Bénédicte Billiet) for the new production of Kontakthof.
Alain Platel and Lutz Förster were Baum’s other guests. Both were in Sydney for performances of Platel’s Out of context: for Pina, which I wrote about last year and in which Förster was a performer.*
An unexpected (for me) addition to the program was a brief public conversation with photographer William Yang, whose images of two Bausch works, Kontakthof and 1980, taken at the 1982 Adelaide Festival were on view in the foyer. Yang, who admitted he was not really a great dance-goer, likened Bausch to Chekhov. ‘She understands the human condition’, he said.
Michelle Potter, 10 September 2011
*Platel was a guest on ‘Mornings with Margaret’ on 31 August 2011. His interview is available as a podcast. (update: Podcast no longer available)