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

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before