1980 – A Piece by Pina Bausch, dance review: 'Surreal, unsettling and very funny'

Sadler’s Wells, London

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The Independent Culture

To recordings of Judy Garland singing “Over the Rainbow”, the dancers of Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch stroll across the real turf floor and arrange themselves to sunbathe.

They’re all together, all separate – from the man exposing only his bottom to the woman shrouding herself in towels, they’re wildly, cussedly individual. As Garland hits her big finale, the theatre audience joins in the recorded applause.

Now celebrating its 40th anniversary, the company is full of dancers who spent decades with Bausch, who died in 2009. They’re a team of powerful personalities. In 1980, men and women line up for a beauty pageant, getting their legs out or jostling for attention. When the women are asked to smile, the responses go from Julie Shanahan’s eager-to-please grin to Mechthild Grossman’s look of bored disdain: both are hilarious.

Bausch’s vision is utterly distinctive, a chaos of relationships and identities. 1980, an early work, shows several key images in place, from the formally-dressed chorus lines to the outbursts of shrieking. Bausch works tend to be very long, deliberately messy, often exasperating. 1980 is all of those things, but it’s also surreal, unsettling and very funny, given depth and power by its devoted cast.

Until 16 February. Box office 0844 412 4300.