Ten Chi, Barbican Theatre, London


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The Independent Culture

In Pina Bausch’s series of works inspired by cities, the locations are nearer to the surface in some works than others. If you know Rome, you may recognise more of it in the stylised performances of Viktor.

Anyone can see the Japanese themes and images in Ten Chi. There’s even a moment where one woman chatters through a list of familiar Japanese words. She speaks as though she understands Japanese, but it becomes clear that her vocabulary is limited to “kimono”, “kabuki”, “samurai” and – in desperation – “chopstick”.

As the marathon World Cities 2012 series, performed as part of the London 2012 festival, heads for its mid-point, patterns are starting to emerge. Bausch’s own preoccupations surface repeatedly, but in different forms. If self-image and male-female interactions are regular themes, she has explored them in tones from bitter to fluffy.

In Ten Chi, Bausch plays with Japanese imagery, but stays on the surface of her characters and her host city. Peter Pabst’s set design is dominated a huge whale tail, angled as if breaking a wave, pushing up through the floor of the stage. Towards the end of the first half, white blossom starts to fall over the stage. It goes on falling, white petals snowing down through the interval and right up to the end. It’s a beautiful image, but lacks the transformation of Bausch’s best work.

Some of her images of Japan tip right into cliché. A man explains that his phone is by Sony, his television by Panasonic – on and on through a list of electronic devices and Japanese brand names. There’s no surprise to it.

It’s much more fun when a woman staggers on, her dark hair pulled over her face like a figure from a Japanese horror film, reaching out with blind fingers. Then she flips her hair back and gives her apparent victim a cheeky leer.

Another woman describes her sense of loss in terms of landscape, using rivers, leaves and turning seasons to suggest sadness. Her sorrow becomes comedy: “I forgive spring for returning,” she says, in tones of deep resentment.

The dancers remain vivid and charismatic, and there are clever incidents in Ten Chi. Still, for the first time in this series, Bausch feels like a tourist in her chosen city, content to see the familiar sights.

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