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theatre review

Choreography by Pina Bausch

Pina Bausch (1940-2009) is gone but not forgotten. Five years after the legendary German choreographer's death, audiences continue to flock to performances of her works, as witnessed by the sold-out houses in Ottawa over the weekend for her dance company Tanztheater Wuppertal.

Changes, however, are afoot in Wuppertal, the industrial town that Bausch put on the map. There is a new company artistic director, Lutz Forster. Bausch's works will be passed down to younger dancers and productions by new choreographers will be developed. In other words, this tour may be the last time to see Bausch's long-time dancers in a piece they helped create.

Vollmond (Full Moon) premiered in 2006 and is vintage Bausch who was, after all, the most influential choreographer of the late-20th-century.

Vollmond is built around Bausch's tell-tale episodic structure – her kaleidoscope of images, whether in dance or tableau, that form the passing parade of human foibles. As in all her works, Bausch is obsessed with relationships, mostly heterosexual. No non-gender unitards for her. The women wear haute couture ballgowns (courtesy of designers Marion Cito and Rolf Borzik), while the men are garbed in shirts and pants.

There is an over-the-top atmosphere to the piece. Everything seems hyper-exaggerated, but then, the full moon can make people kooky. Surprises abound. For example, a gorgeous woman poses on a chair holding a champagne glass. Her beau runs towards her, leaps onto her chair holding the champagne bottle aloft, then pours the liquid into her glass from a great height. Of course, he drenches her. Is this a metaphor for abuse?

Bausch has always loved the symbolism of water, which, for her, can be both nurturer or destroyer. Then there is the added factor that the moon affects the tides, or in this case, the tides of human emotion.

The remarkable set by Peter Pabst and Borzik contains a huge rock that rises floor to ceiling in centre stage. This monumental natural wonder is surrounded by a large, shin-deep pool of water. Waterfalls cascade down the back curtain, not to mention the heavy tropical rain that fills the entire stage on cue.

The dancers use the rock and the pool for both fun and frolic, as well as instruments of danger or sadness. In the latter case, the second act opens with melancholy gloom. Cleverly, the women wear exact copies in black of their colourful first-act dresses. Water becomes a burden as clothes become water-logged. The male/female encounters have a harsh edge. Some women are almost drowned by their male companions in the pool.

Bausch, however, is an optimist when it comes to human resilience. By the end of Vollmond, the women are back in their coloured silks and satins. As wave after wave of dancers careen across the stage and dive into the pool, the energy is electric. An exhilarating montage is the explosion of liquid fireworks, as the dancers use buckets to fling water up into the air where the stage lights transform the splashes into crystalline arcs of breath-taking beauty.

For Bausch, the full moon brings out the best and the worst of us. Vollmond is compelling dance theatre because it is witty, sad, satiric and brutal, all at the same time.

Vollmond runs at Montreal's Place des Arts, Nov. 12 to 15.