Pina Bausch's Tanztheater Wuppertal, Sadler's Wells Theatre, London

More strange people like us

Nadine Meisner
Monday 04 February 2002 01:00

A woman swathed in fur walks to the front of the stage, pauses dramatically and announces, "All the animals I had, died." Pina Bausch's Masurca Fogo, however, is not about the immorality of fashion fur, but, as always, about people – their humour and pain, tenderness and cruelty, solitude and companionship. They speak to us directly, with a vulnerability and guilelessness that makes their emotions and rituals immediately familiar. They perform dances, sketches and gags that appear like kaleidoscopic mirror fragments of ourselves, except that they are given a surreal twist, so that we see them afresh.

Like us, they do the best that they can under the circumstances, and they share the world with animals and nature. In Masurca Fogo, these are represented by a live chicken, a convincing walrus and film projections superimposed on the live action. We watch a train journey, the whizzing landscape contributing to the piece's special fluidity. Even more vivid are the filmed ocean waves that seem physically to flood the stage, the surf spilling forward to the edge, the water's volume crashing like skyscraper walls, the current's terrifying tug pulling hard and the roar vibrating in our ears.

Made for Expo '98 in Lisbon, Masurca Fogo (Fiery Mazurka), like many recent pieces by Bausch and her Wuppertal company, derives inspiration from its co-producing foreign city. The ocean is the Atlantic, and a rocky shoreline extends from the back of the stage, the dancers picking their way down it with nimble speed. The musical collage includes fado songs that infuse the air with quiet melancholy and drive the dance solos.

The solos form the piece's backbone and give it a dance preponderance that marks a return to Bausch's Seventies period. The beautiful, intense movement has a deceptive rawness, its extreme arcs both erotic and nostalgic. When the women dance, their long, flying hair becomes a part of the choreography. Their fleshy curves and thin, silky dresses have an unashamed femininity that contrasts with the groups of soberly clothed men.

Dancing couples shuffle out in a long, snaking line; Nazareth Panadero struts with her characteristic forthrightness and tells us how, when she walked along the promenade as a young girl, the men would gasp: "Oh!" This is all archetypal Bauschian stuff, although, truth to tell, it doesn't have the resonance of her best work. This is Bausch on autopilot, Bausch creating gags that don't always hit the funny mark, Bausch painting images that don't always punch you in the guts.

And yet, even non-vintage Bausch has a unique power. The strongest moments will burn themselves for ever in your memory, like the couple who, after applying lip balm, find the result too slippery for a kiss. Or the makeshift water slide manufactured out of a sheet of plastic. Or Regina Advento washing her dishes as she reclines in her bubble bath. Or the dustbin that throws back a banana skin. Bausch piles these visuals on with increasing speed and density. And her wonderful performers – who are real people with lived-in bodies – make you laugh and cry and love them, because they are your soulmates, they are you.

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