sun 26/05/2019

Nur Du, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Barbican Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Nur Du, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Barbican Theatre

Nur Du, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Barbican Theatre

Los Angeles proves a shallower field for Bausch's grim jokes than Rome

Disposable packing: Nur Du takes aim at an easy target, La-la Land© Ursula Kaufmann/Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch

Many people will be having their first taste of the late Pina Bausch’s dance-theatre in this copious London retrospective of 10 of her “World City” productions; others will have bought into several of the series, possibly by now wondering how many hours they can take of her barbed view of men and women. For all of us, reading programme notes is beside the point; the background you need is what’s inside you, your memories, your songs, your susceptibilities. Rome is a history as much as a city, which made Viktor (the first of the series, last week) dense with interest, a palimpsest of centuries.

Los Angeles, though, is a much shallower place, its images more commercial, baser, less ritual, less freighted with human and historical ambivalence - or, if it is, all borrowed and faked for the cameras. Maybe that's why the set gestures at antiquity: a gigantic copse of redwood tree-trunks, another stunning effect by Bausch’s in-house designer Peter Pabst. But even if redwoods could be older than ancient Rome, the scenery supplies more of a spectacle than a suggestive environment.

Imagine - all of us here, under all our clothes, are completely naked! Sorry!

Nur Du, Bausch’s travelogue to the City of Angels, felt to me looser, more of a jaunt, than Viktor, its clichés more flip. “Only you, my one and only you” - the Platters' great serenade has to be ironic here, naturally. Lovely women totter about in tight dresses, anxious movie wannabes - or perhaps anxious woman wannabes -  obsessing about their breasts, asking men to draw on them (like plastic surgeons scribbling implant lines), being manhandled by men, any neurotic bargain to fit the industry mould. Some of the sketches are darkly funny and silly: a gorgeous creature draping herself over half a dozen men giggling, “Imagine - all of us here, under all our clothes, are completely naked! Sorry!”, and an older one who keeps eagerly ripping off her pants, finding more pants underneath, because basically at her age she can never realistically join the sex game. Two men, in a nasty if typical scene, suspend a girl in the air by her hair, while Harry Connick Jr croons meltingly, "You say you love me, and I say I love you too." The ambiguity of the verbal wit and song choices - as usual with Bausch - makes the familiar cruel sight freshly discomfiting.

Nudity is a recurring theme - mostly it’s the women who are revealed, upside-down dance moves selected to make their topless dresses fall off the correct latitude, though there is, briefly, a man who nervously undresses himself while pushing a wheelie bin, furtively stuffing each bit of clothing into it. 

She seems to be harsher on the women, in fact, than on the men. Nur Du has quite a bit of dance, largely given to the men, for whom Bausch reveals a great deal of affection under all the playacting: a series of dashing solos, a delightful little slapstick contact-improvisation between two males as a bit of byplay to something else, and a tearingly funny mass iron-in as all the men race to press their shirts on cardboard boxes.

dominique mercy pina bauschBest of all, the veteran Bausch-performer Dominique Mercy, a male version of Edith Sitwell, dressed in one sketch as a drag artiste in satin and rhinestones, declaring wearily in his thick French accent: “I have said before, I am NOT a sexy pot.” He also concludes the show with his own heartrendingly dog-eared and desperate performance (pictured right, by Francesco Carbone) of the male dance script that, as it were, has been handed from performer to performer to audition with.

Entertaining some of it is, but sexual cruelty is a much easier hit than in Viktor, because of the obviousness that in the entertainment industry this is an arcade game whose rules everyone knows from the start. Long hair, cocktail dress, big tits = money. Long hair, big tits, too old = you miss. Bausch comprehends it in a glance, and has a bit of fun with it.

It’s not worth three and a half hours, though. It lacks the ground bass of idolatry that made Viktor a more provoking commentary on sexual manipulation; idolatry, much more interesting than cynicism, links both the ancient Roman view of women and modern Italian cinema, a shimmering, murky halo of Catholicism and male artistic fantasy. For her Los Angeles experience Bausch had little cultural history to grab on to - perhaps that was why it feels so Hispanic, so many Spanish, Latin and even Portuguese songs (the glorious Amalia Rodriguez). Some of the other cultures visited on this grand tour - the Turkish (Nefès), the Japanese (Ten Chi) - could be richer pickings for her eagle eye.

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Listen to the Platters singing 'Only You'

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