The most controversial dancer/choreographer of her era was Pina Bausch (born 1940). She created the Theatertanz, an approach to dance expression, which became a trend.
Born July 27, 1940, in the industrial city of Solingen in Germany, Pina Bausch once said, "I am no one's pupil." She began her studies at the age of 14 under the direction of Kurt Jooss at the Folkwang School, from which she graduated in 1959. Jooss was one of the most outstanding teachers and choreographers of the pre-Hitler period, a liberal mind, as demonstrated by his work The Green Table, an antiwar memorial. His spirit must have greatly influenced Bausch's development.
The second great influence came from the city of New York where she landed at the age of 19. She was one of few German dance students to go abroad on an academic scholarship and came to New York through the German American Exchange Program for the USA. She studied at the Juilliard School of Music with such teachers as Louis Horst, Josea Limogn, Paul Taylor, and Antony Tudor and danced with the Paul Sanasardo and the Danya Feuer Dance Company. She became a member of the New American Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. But it was the city itself, its multifaceted life, that strongly impressed Bausch. She felt that the direction of her future life was determined in the two years of her stay in that city. "New York is like a jungle, but at the same time it gives you a feeling of total freedom. In these two years I have found myself."
Bausch returned to Germany in 1962, and became principal dancer with the newly founded Folkwang-Ballett. In 1968 she began choreographing for the Folkwang-Ballett and the following year undertook leadership of that company. In 1973, she went to Wuppertal and founded Tanztheater Wuppertal, for which she has created nearly 30 full-length productions. She had her dancers voice words, gibberish or small talk, as in her piece Waltz. In her stage designs, too, she often used seemingly outlandish and impossible ideas and gadgets to make her point visually, as in her highly dramatic version of The Rite of Spring. In this piece she covered the entire stage with peat so that one could not only see and hear but also smell the earthiness which characterized this production.
She soon became convinced that art must be a vehicle for social criticism; it must never be a mere means to beautify life. She was never interested in telling a dramatic or pretty story embellished with yesteryear's ornaments. Hers were not stories told, but experiences staged. Her works were not psychodramatic or physically poetic. Whatever she tried to convey she lifted out of any personal context and mostly gave it a sociopolitical meaning. Her choreographic approach was psychological only in as much as it emerged from the depth of her (and her dancers') being. Thus, the artistic Gestalt of her creations attained universal validity.
Like Bertolt Brecht, Bausch wanted her spectators to think about what they saw and heard and to draw their own conclusions. She expected a verdict of condemnation for many of life's injustices, especially those suffered by women. On stage, if not quite in life, she became a feminist activist. She defended the female against the male, since, in her eyes, the male was an aggressive part of society.
In her dance works she overcame technical and conceptual boundaries. The forcefulness of her appearance on the international dance scene was exemplary, inspiring many other choreographers in Europe. Her greatest deed was to have found a new original dimension in the art of dancing, breaking through all barriers of what was known until then as postmodern, using all theatrical and dramaturgic means to enforce an idea—which, in turn, also influenced the European theater, opening the way for a new movement quality on stage.
Bausch mainly worked in a spirit of defiance or out of a mood of defense, thereby creating unexpected contrasts. In concepts and gestures she could become aggressive to the point of arousing rejection from the onlooker. But she did not mind alienating part of her audience if she could only arouse anger and protest. She made this clear when she said: "It is almost unimportant whether a work finds an understanding audience. One has to do it because one believes that it is the right thing to do. We are not only here to please, we cannot help challenging the spectator."
This thought was magnified as the reality of her creative efforts, and her rich repertory proved her philosophy of life. Come, Dance With Me, for instance, searches for human happiness in a sea of futility. There is also no end to frustration in her Bluebeard. Symbolically, it takes place in a room covered by dead leaves. Male and female dancers incessantly reach out for each other, but their attempts at embracing and caressing make it painfully clear that there is no real communication. It is an impressive work, questioning the old clichéa about love and demonstrating our desperate craving for it. For Nelken, Bausch covered the floor with pink carnations. For Palermo, Palermo, it was rubble.
Café Muller, set to music by Henry Purcell, is a story of alienation and loneliness, although it contains no actual plot. Bausch was a master in dramatizing the monotony of everyday life. On a stage filled with chairs, one woman dresses and undresses uninterruptedly; a couple kisses and argues incessantly; a man enters and exits, making sexual advances toward both sexes; another couple bash each other against the wall, while another figure remains totally immobile in the background. Nothing else happens, but we are painfully reminded of the realities of life. Her Rite of Spring is shaped out of horror, out of dark despair; the sacrifice of the virgin for the coming of spring has a feel of earthiness and the brutal truth that we pay for life with death.
Nur Du (Only You), Bausch's interpretation of the American West, was her first site-specific work created outside Europe and came about after her visits to California, Arizona and Texas. The $1.2 million project was co-commissioned by Cal Performances at UC Berkeley (where the work premiered), UCLA's Center for the Performing Arts, James Doolittle's Southern California Theatre Association, the Music Center of Los Angeles County, the University of Texas Performing Arts Center and Arizona State University Public Events. With a background of giant redwoods, Nur Du was set to the sounds of rhythm and blues, jazz, New Age, Latin jazz and pop and 50s ballads. "The U.S. premiere of Nur Du is three-plus hours of nonlinear neo-Expressionism, powered by brilliant dancing, " Lewis Segal (Los Angeles Times, October 5, 1996).
The Window Washer, co-produced by the Goethe-Institut Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Arts Festival Society, premiered in 1997. In late 1996, Bausch brought 29 dancers from 14 countries to Hong Kong for three weeks to absorb the atmosphere and culture, then returned to Wuppertal to create the piece. As reported by Paul Moor/Wuppertal in Time, "Given that Bausch's favored style is collage, the piece immediately latches onto the disorderly picture that the city initially presents: she strings together snapshots—a man having his torso sponged and hair blowdried, a woman firing off hilarious deadpan monologues at the audience, another man pulling mock snakes from the flowers with chopsticks and, later skiing down the crimson hill. By contrast, the conclusion comes off as blatantly metaphorical, as the dancers methodically climb the Red mountain one-byone before exiting."
Bausch's work tries to mirror the various stations of our existence in pantomime and danced images supported by music and the spoken word. It is a long path of passion from Wuppertal to Gethsemane. There are also a few light moments in her work, but many more moments in which to pause and gaze in silent amazement at a lost world which cannot find itself.
Further Reading on Pina Bausch
The only sources of information on Pina Bausch available at this time are in German and French. The most recent are Norbert Servos, Pina Bausch-Wuppertaler Tanztheater oder die Kunst, einen Goldfisch zu dressieren (1996); Maarten Vanden Abeele, Pina Bausch (1996); and Detlef Erler, Pina Bausch (1994). Reviews and biographical information can be found in the Los Angeles Times (February 1, 1996), (March 17, 1996), (May 15, 1996), (October 5, 1996), (October 12, 1996) and (May 5, 1997); Time (March 10, 1997); The New York Times (September 11, 1994), (November 19, 1994), (December 11, 1994), (September 22, 1996), (October 5, 1996) and (October 26, 1996); The Christian Science Monitor (November 22, 1994); and The Wall Street Journal (November 22, 1994).