Pina Bausch, Sadler's Wells, London<br></br>Lindsay Kemp, Peacock Theatre, London

Life's a beach, so boogie
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The Independent Culture

Does geography decide the way one sees the world? Pina Bausch, leading light of European dance theatre, long regarded as the High Priestess of Angst, has for 25 years based her large, international company at Wuppertal, a grey industrial town on the Ruhr. Recently, however, she has been taking her performers on long working holidays. Masurca Fogo – the show she brought to Sadler's Wells – is the result of a three-month stint in Portugal's Cape Verde, a place of sun and sea and smoky fado singing. And lo, here is Bausch as we've not seen her before. Gone is the teutonic bleakness. This is a world filled with laughter and love.

Which isn't to say that the foibles of modern men and women escape Bausch's gimlet eye. On a rocky beach – evoked impressively on Peter Pabst's set by a deep shelf of granite, over which dancers scramble in unsuitable shoes, or recline to sunbathe – she conjures a two-and-a-half-hour parade of emotionally needy characters. All the familiar Bauschian tropes are there: vanity, pride, competitiveness, the absurdities of social ritual. Yet instead of flaying humankind for its blinkeredness and folly, this time she seems to be chuckling over the rich complexity of it all. We are reminded of its obverse by a couple of dumb animals: a lumbering fake walrus, and later, a live chicken. They are the wordless (and joyless?) standard against which the humans' hectic activity is measured.

Some of the gags are simple sketch-show comedy: the loving couple who apply so much lip balm they cannot kiss, the restaurant couple sharing a set of false teeth; a woman who washes her dishes while taking a bubble bath, hubby standing proudly by with the tea towel. Other sequences are pure Jeux Sans Frontières. A group of revellers construct a disco shack in 50 seconds and cram inside to boogie. Others concoct a polythene water slide and whoosh along it with childish abandon. There are also brief but intense dance solos, and a humbling glimpse of the majesty of nature, with a projection of seawater crashing and surging on stage. The full tanztheater message emerges from the accumulation of fragments, and as ever in these Pina Bausch marathons, nothing is arbitrary, nothing is haphazard. One may rail against the show's length, but even the longueurs, I suspect, are part of the grand plan.

Reiteration of pet themes is also a feature of Dreamdances, the comeback show of Lindsay Kemp, who, over the past three decades, has had almost as potent an impact on theatrical taste and possibility as Bausch. His imaginative palette is very different, of course. Camp, purple, even fetid, are adjectives that readily spring to mind. Yet if you can stomach the self-indulgence, there is a crazily original talent to admire.

Dreamdances comprises 10 vignettes – almost Edwardian in tone – of typical Kemp characters, among them Salome, Violetta, Salieri and Nijinsky. Kemp calls them self-portraits, suggesting that they are various facets of himself. Whatever, it is enough to note that every one of them is mad, damaged or deluded. And through Kemp's stylised indentification their tragic stories acquire a cur ous homogeneity. Regardless of age or gender, somehow they all turn out the same.

Unlike the Kemp extravaganzas of the Eighties and Nineties, this show has a certain low-tech charm. Feathers make snowstorms, talcum powder, fog. Violent death is denoted by red ribbon pulled from the teeth. Kemp isn't much of a dancer, if indeed he ever was. Yet at 63 his movements can still transfix, inching tragedy-stricken across the stage as Verdi's Violetta, or coming up gruesomely close to St John's severed head as a gloating, ghastly Salome. Kemp's crazy, white-plastered Pierrot face – with its inky pits for eyes – seems to radiate a thousand flickering emotions by the minute: tremulous hope, fear, despair. It's almost a ballet in itself.

j.gilbert@independent.co.uk

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