Perspectives on Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Berkeley


Perspectives on Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch:
A Master Class and ‘Pina,’ a film by Wim Wenders

Class with company member Julie Shanahan
Shawl-Anderson Dance Center
Pina,” a film by Wim Wenders
Berkeley, Nov. 30, 2011

This was not theatre, nor pantomime, nor ballet and not at all opera. Pina is, as you know, the creator of a new art. Dance theatre.

—Wim Wenders

Class with Julie Shanahan

In order to get students to realize the essential aspect of “dance theatre,” Julie Shanahan, member of the Tanztheater Wuppertal, refrained from the usual classic or modern dance class. After a short warmup, she gave the students a simple movement pattern (turn, jump, fall, shout “No!”). The point in this as in other acting exercises is to remain simple, natural, true to one’s inner self, avoiding performance affectations. Dancers who are trained to be technically brilliant and presentational in style find this intention difficult.

Yet as the group continued to try experiences such as a simple walk across the room and/or writing the word LOVE with the whole body, the execution became possible. What is so endearing about the performances of the Bausch company (at UC Berkeley Dec. 2 and 3), is that what the company does on stage seems spontaneous and personal, although it is often shocking and bizarre.

The master class opened this possibility to intermediate-advanced students. Whether such work is accepted by them as members of contemporary dance companies is to be seen. Meanwhile, 25 dancers achieved good personal insights.

‘Pina’: The Film

pina_12-11Wim Wenders’ film (a scene from which is shown at right, with dancer Ditta Miranda Jasifi), is a tribute to Pina Bausch and has been seen in Europe and Israel. It had a press preview in Berkeley to welcome the Tanztheater Wuppertal company upon its arrival on the UC Campus. It is the first film I have watched in 3D and took getting used too, but, long and repetitious as it is, it brought exciting visual dimensions to well-remembered Pina Bausch works.

This reviewer’s favorite clips are from “Café Müller” (1978; see video excerpt above), a piece seen live in 1979 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Bausch danced an important role in this work, which is full of lonely desperation. There is also a long excerpt from her 1975 “The Right of Spring” and from “Kontakthof”—a work for persons over 65 years of age. In addition, since the film is a tribute from the company to their dead director, each individual company member offers a moving section. Wenders has shot in many out-of-doors venues; he has a wonderful eye for scenery and visual irony.

It takes some sophistication to absorb the methods and presentations that Bausch, past and present, offers the general public. Her work is personal, political, sarcastic and satiric. In the performance of “Danzón” at Zellerbach Auditorium, several people got up and left—not because the performance was poor in any way, but because Pina Bausch’s work has a unique, non-linear, episodic structure that is full of actions, not dance steps, that are surprising and sometimes confusing. It is clear to more accepting audiences that this work is what constitutes contemporary fascination for today’s dancers and viewers who are fascinated by Bausch’s amazing imagination.

San Francisco, CA
Joanna Gewertz Harris, Ph.D, is a dance teacher, historian, reviewer, and lecturer. She taught dance and theater at UCB, UCSC, Cal State Hayward and Sonoma, and is a frequent contributor to scholarly journals and books, most recently to H'Doubler, and Legacy in Dance Education, both from Cambria Press. Beyond Isadora, Bay Area Dancing 1915-1965 , her book documenting Bay Area history (Price $40. + 2.00 shipping) is available from her web site beyondsadora.com and her e mail, joannagharris@comcast.net.