Tanztheater Wuppertal, Barbican Theatre, London

Age on parade lacks the levity of youth

Perhaps the difference between a good choreographer and a great one is that death has no dominion over the latter.

The earthly demise of Pina Bausch last July seems not to have impinged one jot on the validity of the comment: "I saw Pina Bausch the other night." Bausch remains synonymous with her company, Tanztheater Wuppertal. She remains synonymous, too, with a style of dance theatre that doesn't have much to do with dancing.

Filled with a brooding sense of the past – by which we understand, by implication, Germany's past – Bausch's works typically take the form of an obliquely psychoanalytical sketch-show. Dressed formally, as if for an evening out in the 1940s, her performers parade – sometimes literally – their secret frustrations and desires, emit fragments of verbal confession or enact dreamlike scenarios, often involving sexual violence. The chief mode of movement is a stately walk.

In memory of Bausch, the Barbican has presented two versions of one of her earliest works, Kontakthof. Conceived in 1978 for professional dancers, Bausch herself revised the piece much later for a cast of local amateurs, first for "ladies and gentlemen over 65", then for teenagers, the same material assuming very different resonances. The Barbican run opened with the oldies.

Kontakthof means "a place to make contact, to meet", and Ralf Borzak's set suggests a municipal town hall of the immediate post-war period, with its curtained platform, metal chairs and upright piano. Seated obediently around the perimeter, the 27 retired people might be assembled for a tea dance or whist drive. But what happens is stranger by far.

First comes an identity parade, as each comes forward to display their teeth, their calves or the backs of their hands – a routine that triggers any number of possible meanings. Is this an audition, with the audience as casting director? Are these people trying to prove they're still fit for work? Or free of old concentration camp brandings? As the parade goes on, and on (Bausch always pushes repetition beyond comfort), notions of vanity, need for approval and the indignities of age bubble to the surface.

Later sequences continue to shine a spotlight on the variousness of the human animal: the beaky old codger, the still sexy older woman, the baggy harridan, the spry and handsome gent. You find yourself pondering (and Bausch surely intended this), the life histories of individuals. What brought this provincial hausfrau/ex-bank manager to submit themselves to this bizarre theatrical catharsis?

Much of what ensues is childish and not very funny: a man chases a woman, brandishing a dead mouse, characters tweak or goose one another in humiliating games, a woman begs coins from the audience to operate a fairground ride – astride that pony, lost in girlhood memory perhaps, she finds the only true serenity of the evening.

At three hours, such apercus seem hard won, and the music (old tango and waltz records) drives you insane with its repetitions. How much better to cut the show in half and present youth and age cheek by jowl.

Next Week:

Jenny Gilbert relives the supreme dance-musical experience of the last 20 years: Mark Morris's setting of Handel/Milton's L'Allegro, il Moderato ed il Penseroso

Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea


In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops


Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game