Dance: Nur Du / Pina Bausch Theatre de la Ville, Paris

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
The blonde dancer in a long white satin frock smiles invitingly as she reclines on the backs of four crouching men. "Would you believe that under all these clothes I am completely naked?" she asks, giving the words a lascivious intonation, then collapsing into giggles as she adds repeatedly, "I'm sorry, I'm really sorry". But soon she is reminding the audience that we are all equally naked.

This episode is at the beginning of Nur du ("Only you"), Pina Bausch's latest work, now running in Paris, where the Theatre de la Ville presents her Tanztheater Wuppertal every year. Nakedness, clothing, lasciviousness and stubborn innocence, aggression and support, all recur during the next three-and-a-half hours - this is a long show even by Bausch's standards; too long actually, and not always focused enough.

But there is much good stuff in it. In a sense, the subject matter of all Bausch's work is the human condition, and if this piece has a theme it might be expressed in another phrase of the woman in white: "Pick yourself up, dust yourself off." But Bausch, though using multilingual speech and much popular music, expresses herself best in movement. The many solos tell a lot about her dancers (including an impressive team of men): also what might be called duets although they are more often confrontations in which two individuals try each other out. The total effect is rambling, sometimes tiresome, but often amusing (the American cheerleader is a hoot) and sometimes touching.

More impressive however is the new production of one of Bausch's earliest works, The Rite of Spring, presented simultaneously at the Palais Garnier by the Ballet de l'Opera. This is the first time she has given any of her choreography to a company other than her own, and the amazing thing is that the Paris dancers, although new to her style which is very different from their usual, perform it with all the intensity you could wish (the more surprising, since a revival of Antony Tudor's Dark Elegies on the same bill proved disappointingly lightweight).

This is the third version of Stravinsky's monumental score in the Paris repertoire. They have had Nijinsky's, following the original idea of the composer and the painter Roerich to show the spring sacrifice as "Pictures from Pagan Russia", and Bejart's, which stripped away the folklore element to depict an animal-like tribe. Bausch goes even further in reducing the narrative: she shows a group of people fearful of death in a dark, lonely world, the only decor being the soft earth that covers the stage and dirties the dancers skin and clothes when they fall on it.

I call them a group, and some of the most gripping moments are when they move as a mass, leaping, swinging or pounding ground with angry force. Yet really they are shown rather an assembly of individuals, breaking out of the crowd into their own obsessions. Even the woman who is to be sacrificed seems not so much the chosen victim as one who, after several others have hovered on the brink, chooses herself, although terrified of her action.

Her dance of death comes after she and all the others have already worked themselves into a state of breathless exhaustion; it is long, violent, anguished, physically demanding and, I am sure, emotionally even more so. Aurelie Dupont, whom I saw (she is one of three casts), does it magnificently, but the whole ensemble is terrific, as is the resident orchestra under Olaf Henzold's conducting.

Comments