Nur Du (Only You), Barbican Theatre, London


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The Independent Culture

Reclining over the backs of a line of men, a glamorous blonde coos at the audience. “Do you know,” she says, giggling, “under these clothes, I’m absolutely naked.” In fact, the characters of Pina Bausch’s Nur Du could have almost anything under their clothes, up to and including tiny white mice in a man’s makeshift plastic bra.

Nur Du is one of the World Cities series of Bausch works inspired by major cities. It was created in 1996, after the German choreographer and her Tanztheater Wuppertal made a stay in Los Angeles. The frills and sunshine of Hollywood aren’t an obvious match for Bausch’s intense, often anguished dance theatre, but they seem to have had a good time.

Bausch characters are often obsessed with their own bodies, neurotically primping or exposing themselves. The surprise is that in Nur Du they’re enjoying it. One woman, bundled up in a long coat, keeps stopping to take off her knickers, giggling with delight at her own naughtiness. She stumbles on, still laughing, then takes off another pair, and another.

A man comes on with a wheelie bin, taking off items of clothing and popping them inside. By the time he’s naked, he stays safely behind the bin, but it’s more like teasing than modesty.  It’s also very funny. As ever with Bausch, there are surreal encounters and moments of social awkwardness. Nur Du floats along, the pace brisk.

Dominique Mercy, a longtime Bausch performer who became co-director of the Wuppertal company after her death in 2009, sails through in drag. He quotes famous lines about Hollywood: “Include me out”, “They shoot too many pictures and not enough actors”. He makes a serene diva, a contented ego.

There’s even a moment when they do the show right there. A bossy rehearsal director orders through a jazz routine. Stripped to their underwear, barefoot or in heels, the dancers follow his movements, picking up the steps, getting more and more confident as they go.

The second half is dominated by solos, with more pure dance. It’s less striking than the physical theatre scenes, where dancers wrestle with props, themselves and each other. They climb inside large plastic bags to bathe, or dance along to 1950s pop or South American dance music. One man pulls a large clear bag over his head, puts on goggles and fills the bag with water. His submerged face looks impossibly swollen, while the rest of him stays comfortably dry.

World Cities 2012 season runs until 9 July. Box office 020 7638 8891