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Sun, Jul. 5th, 2009 01:46 pm
The death of Pina Bausch

The death of German dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch on Tuesday struck me harder than the death of Michael Jackson. She was someone incredibly cool, beautiful and talented, someone I'd followed and admired over the years.



I never queued for Michael Jackson concert tickets, but I did queue for Pina Bausch returns at the Paris Opera in February 1991, and when a few precious second-row box seats for Iphigenie auf Tauride (a piece she premiered in 1974) became available, Suzy and I sprinted up the baroque hall to the box office to grab them. Here's a glimpse of what we saw, and of Bausch's originality (note the "coughing dance"):



I never wore out VHS tapes of Jackson in concert, but I watched over and over again my tape of a Pina Bausch video, set in Wuppertal, broadcast on Channel 4 at some point in the late 80s. I never made a pilgrimage to Neverland, but I did go to Wuppertal, where Bausch's company was based, and ride the town's monorail, slung over its winding river, because I'd seen it in my Bausch tape, with dancers and a cellist. As far as I was concerned, Wuppertal only existed to give Pina Bausch a theatre. Simple as that.

Where did I first hear about Pina Bausch? It must have been from Lois Keidan, who ran the Live Arts department at the ICA. I was completely in thrall to Lois in the late 80s, and anything she said was good just had to be investigated. Lois had worked with Michael Morris, who said in his tribute in The Guardian the other day:



"Pina was well known for not talking about her work to journalists. She very rarely talked about her work to anyone at all. Whenever I went to Wuppertal, everything under the sun would be discussed around the dinner table but not the work. It wasn't that she didn't want to; she didn't know how to talk about it. She was not an intellectual. She was motivated only by emotional truth and was not frightened to put difficult and paradoxical feelings on stage, almost as a way of evacuating aspects of humanity that she was fearful of."



Fear -- total terror -- dominated my next exposure to Pina's work. It was 1998, and her 1980 piece Café Müller was playing at the Barbican. I had tickets to see it on a Saturday night, but on the Friday my opthalmologist declared that my cornea had perforated and that I'd need a corneal graft immediately. "What's in your stomach?" he demanded, hopeful that if I hadn't eaten he could perform the operation -- removing the front part of my right eye and sewing the front part of a dead woman's eye on instead -- right away.

I'd recently eaten, so we scheduled the operation for Monday, but I was, for the rest of that weekend, living in dread. Somehow, though, Café Müller lifted my terror, calmed and soothed me. The production seemed to understand pain, and time, and life. The dance lifted me completely out of my distress.



Pina's last week must have been rather like that; she'd been diagnosed just five days before she died with terminal cancer, probably caused by the "perennial cigarette in her hand". The 68 year-old went quickly and efficiently, I hope with a sardonic smile on her proud, beautiful face and her favourite Argentinian tango music playing. Tango comes from the Latin tangere, to touch, and Pina Bausch certainly touched me.

14CommentReply

akabe
akabe
alin huma
Sun, Jul. 5th, 2009 02:16 pm (UTC)
Wuppertal only existed to give Pina Bausch a theatre

nope, also to give us some lovely scenes near the end of Alice in the Cities


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jul. 5th, 2009 02:16 pm (UTC)

Another false binary opposition at play here. Poor Jacko


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jul. 5th, 2009 02:40 pm (UTC)

Ah, "false binary opposition". What is that, exactly, a relationship between two subjects that's been proven inadmissible in clinical trials?

How about "relevant structuring binary opposition" instead? They were both dancers, they both died this week, their lives and deaths touched me, but Pina's touched me more. True!


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milky_eyes
milky_eyes
milky_eyes
Sun, Jul. 5th, 2009 02:34 pm (UTC)
stange times

Thank you for the note...
My experience w her was so much less then yours. I almost knew nothing of her. I loved the Almadova film 'Talk to Her', where her dance piece was used as an important source of inspiration. Only after that did I know about her. But still almost nothing. The last year or a few months ago I saw BAMBOO BLUES which, honestly I felt completely let down by... and with having little to go by, and only many people's assurence that I HAD to go and see... well, I am more then a bit confused, now that she is dead.
Both MJ and PB were dance innovators... I dont know what people are saying about MJ but I think more than anything, when he died, people remembered his dancing (which I dont think he actually choreographed...), which oozed life, sex and black american cultural language.
For me and many others, watching clips from the 80's (souls train maybe... Billie Jean) always leaves me completey speachless.
I really dont mean to criticize so much as go through it. My only visual reference Bamboo Blues, seemed to me a watered down, fluffed up piece handed out to fans and 'art enjoyers' ... it was beautiful, but to me, not challenging, or complex, leaving only a sensual montage or long commercial sort of feel... in my memory. I guess I need to go back and check out her other work.
I feel like I really missed out... the way you and others are reacting, where was I???


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jul. 5th, 2009 03:03 pm (UTC)

Twit Opera has a mysterious three asterisks for this post. What does it mean?


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lana_sv
lana_sv
lana_sv
Sun, Jul. 5th, 2009 04:04 pm (UTC)

... GODDESS


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jermynsavile
jermynsavile
jermynsavile
Sun, Jul. 5th, 2009 05:01 pm (UTC)

Spent a week in Amsterdam at an arts festival and bought tickets for Bausch out of curiosity more than anything else. No great expectations. Turned out to be one of the highlights of the week. After years of always faintly disappointing Ballet Rambert and Michael Clark she made me see the possibilities of modern dance with new eyes.

Michael Jackson seemed astonishing at the time most of us first saw him - 70s/early 80s - but he sadly never seemed to develop, the same limited range of moves being trotted out again and again, none of them particularly original, it turns out, but put together in a new and compelling way. His death does register, but more for potential unrealised than talent lost. However, that doesn't diminish the impact he had when he started. A one trick pony can still amaze, just as long as it's a very good trick.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jul. 5th, 2009 05:11 pm (UTC)
In a box, at the Paris Opera

Dancers below, Chagall above.

I still can't believe it took me two days to hear this news (I might have done, but I was at a wake for Swells).


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jul. 5th, 2009 05:15 pm (UTC)
Michael Jackson spoke visual Ebonics?

"black american cultural language."

It'd be interesting to know what this means?
Examples?


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jul. 8th, 2009 06:49 pm (UTC)
Re: Michael Jackson spoke visual Ebonics?

His dancing reflected the same fight or flight energy of the street - the conflict that people created in their own lives as a sort of doorway to a place where instead of playing into a locked down destiny, you could be free.

The culture didn't call it 'Breakin.' It was originally 'Breaking Out' - those five minutes where instead of stacking boxes and sweating you can throw down a box and some tunes and dance, or jab at your friends. Street graffitti develops from a similar vein... the desire to break out of paradigm and preconditioned, assigned lives...

There is a proportional balance between the amount of energy your livelihood tries to suppress and the amount of fight you put out there to make it work. Somehow I think having an entire island paradise to yourself takes the fight out of you. It is possible to still have talent, but comfort doesn't stoke the fire...

Now fighting the tension, the constraints of the body itself - that's dance. Just watching those videos again reminded me that some fires never go out by choice. They have to be forced to surrender...


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jul. 23rd, 2009 08:31 am (UTC)
Re: Michael Jackson spoke visual Ebonics?

this is bullshit and racist to attribute this to one particular ethnic group, though (i.e. blacks can dance really good, huh?!...).


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jul. 23rd, 2009 11:52 am (UTC)
Re: Michael Jackson spoke visual Ebonics?

"He did it because he was black" and "He did it despite being black" are both "racist" statements which blur the infinitely complex relationship between situatedness and potential. There's another word for that relationship, a word Michael Jackson picked for one of his album titles: HISTORY.


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niemandsrose
niemandsrose
Niemandsrose
Sun, Jul. 5th, 2009 07:46 pm (UTC)

Thank you for this. You put it as well as I wanted to.


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wolodymyr
wolodymyr
wolodymyr
Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009 12:41 am (UTC)

What a beautiful picture that first is! It's been left often up a lot of today; thanks for it.

Edited at 2009-07-06 12:42 am (UTC)


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