An exhilerating ballet by the possessed

First Night: Pina Bausch, Sadlers Wells, London
Click to follow
The Independent Online
YOU WANT Tchaikovsky and ballet shoes? Pina Bausch's Viktor has them, at least for a few moments, although she deflates the effect by having the dancer wrap raw steak round her toes before tying on her slippers. And for the most part, Bausch is more inclined to trust the famous potency of cheap music.

Something unexpected always comes up, however familiar with her methods you become. More than a big laugh is intended (although she gets that, too) when one of her women comes forward and solemnly announces: "I want to talk to you, seriously," while reaching down inside her dress to hitch up her breasts and create more cleavage. Bausch has something serious to say but chooses to do it her own way: unpredictably, allusively, entertainingly.

You need to be alert to catch everything. Before we are 10 minutes into the show we have had a woman smiling bravely although seemingly without arms, another rolled up in a big carpet, a third who is smothered under an overcoat to stop her singing and jiggling, and a couple who are "married" by a colleague while lying flat on their backs, like the dead.

The Viktor who gives the work his name turns out to be the disembodied voice of a ghost who takes possession of a woman during a solo where she moves frantically from the waist up while sitting on the stage and bumping slowly forward on her bottom. But might the interfering little man hidden under a black cloak also be Victor; or is he Death or Time or something else again? Make your own choice.

Death and loneliness areamong the themes of this work, but so are life and community. And what exhilaration there is in the chorus lines - on stage or passing through the audience - and in the sequence where the women take turns to swing on ropes high above the stage. You may learn, besides, some unusual ways of partnering, or even of eating spaghetti.

Bausch's company are fine dancers, but they are exceptional people, too: before the evening is over you feel that you know and like them as individuals. Some philistines ask, "Where's the choreography?" But Bausch's genius is for assembling the highly varied material, manipulating its contrasts of speed, mood or genre, and shaping it so that gradually you see the pattern beneath. And she makes you care; she really does.

John Percival