Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Berkeley

Written by:
John Sullivan
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Aida Vainieri of Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal in “Danzón”
Photo by Bettina Stoss

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch

“Danzón” (1995)
Directed and choreographed by Pina Bausch
Cal Performances, Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley
Dec. 3, 2011

“First, she dances to the right.
Then, she dances to the left.
Then, she dances on the spot.
So what?!” —”Danzón”

When “Danzón” last toured in the United States in 1995, dance icon Pina Bausch was very much alive, dancing a short solo within it. Sixteen years later and just two years since her passing, a bittersweet irony looms around this stream-of-consciousness dance-theater piece, literally framed by birth and death. What takes place between the forceps and the gravedigger’s shovel is Bausch’s whimsical and often slapstick view of life, where men and woman are in constant interaction, always vying to get or take something. In fact, the piece is named after a passionate Cuban dance, indirectly making reference to it with some “aren’t I terrific and don’t you want to have my babies?” macho vignettes.

From its first scene with a thumb-sucking man in a gigantic baby diaper to the closing with a woman crawling (to her death?) as dirt is shoveled onto her back, Bausch’s dance about life happens; a life full of cigarette-smoking dames, suited men in high heels, naked maidens in bathtubs, and sex parties where couples take turns rolling in the hay. Imagine in-your-face humor as shameless as “Pink Panther” inspector Jacques Clouseau mixed with the distinct fantasy style and satire of a Fellini movie. Here, a voluptuous female dancer speaks with a raspy male voice as if having binged on a diet of cheap whisky and cigarettes. She and the other females ably dance more to parody rather that to glorify dance for its own selfish vanity. “…Then she dances on the spot. So what?!”

Yet, not every moment of life’s journey is noteworthy. Danzón— with its hour-and-forty-five-minute nonstop run — ironically starts to fade in its brilliance right about the time one male dancer begins snoring on stage. At this point, “Danzón” also begins to dwindle, outside of the one spectacular artistic moment involving a male dancer in front of a film clip of tropical fish swimming. With close-ups of these fish as large as the proscenium, the soloist casually mirrors their movement of undulating fins and tails, while their stage-large bulging eyes seem to be watching the dancer. This is the sort of visually impacting trademark that Bausch’s pieces are known for and one that the soon-to-be-released Wim Wenders’ film— “Pina” — will prove for posterity.

However, with a meandering piece as long as this, even with its semi-linear structure, “Danzón” could use more substantial staging, imagery or editing at this juncture. Even Saturday night’s young hip art crowd began to leave early at this point, while the remaining hardcore audience continued to chuckle.

Whether or not you were part of the crowd that was lulled into staying — dreamily going in and out of consciousness and bored excitement, like dozing off in front of a television — or, you were part of the group that left early, chances are you still left with a head full of provocative images and lingering childlike laughter.

David Moreno

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