Tanztheater Wuppertal: Pina Bausch's Kontakthof, Barbican Theatre, London

3.00

A group of people take their chairs to the front of the stage, where they sit talking to the audience. A man passes along the line with a microphone, individual voices spring out of the babble. They're all describing romantic encounters: the horror of a date with spinach in his teeth, the excitement of a new partner, an embarrassing pet name. Many of the stories are funny. Most are cut off mid-sentence, individual experience becoming a chatter of human need.

Pina Bausch, who died last year, was one of the 20th-century's most influential choreographers. Her tanztheater, which uses speech and movement as much as dance, is a surreal depiction of often neurotic human behaviour. Her theatrical imagery is powerful, her shows often sprawling, aggressively long.

In memory of Bausch, the Barbican has presented two versions of her 1978 show, Kontakthof. They have the same steps, the same material, but one is danced by a cast of teenagers, the other by "ladies and gentlemen over 65". The run opened with the older cast – like the teenagers, drawn from the local people of Wuppertal, where Bausch's company is based.

Kontakthof means contact hall, a meeting place. Rolf Borzik's set suggests a dance or village hall, with panelled walls, a curtained platform, a piano and lines of chairs. The people could be meeting for a dance, though their behaviour soon gets weirder. The cast wear suits or evening dresses. The women's satin frocks, suggest the 1930s, like the old songs played as a soundtrack.

One by one, dancers come to the front, where they pose, turn, bare their teeth or hold their hands out, as if for inspection. Given that one of the women goes on to complain about bad or spinach-strewn teeth, the checkup may be needed. In pairs, they introduce each other, gesturing like magician's assistants, then hit or prod each other. Each small cruelty is applauded by the rest of the cast, waiting on their chairs.

A lot of the behaviour is childish: a man chasing a screaming woman with a toy mouse, playground bitching about other cast members. By casting older performers, Bausch stresses the undignified behaviour. Even as they throw tantrums, their age makes them seem more vulnerable.

Kontakthof mines traditional Bausch territory, but it's unusually funny. One dancer wheedles coins from the audience, because she wants to ride a mechanical horse. Bitchy remarks are sharply delivered. There are weighted dance scenes, the company striding into patterns or stopping to argue about them.

At three hours, though, this is a long show. Bausch often used repetition to emphasise how trapped her characters were, stuck in damaging patterns. The characters of Kontakthof are more free – they do actually have a good time, between bursts of cruelty and pain – but the pacing is heavy. Still, it's a distinctive work by an imposing 20th-century artist, performed with absolute commitment.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • 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.

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat