March 12, 2011


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It was three years ago that I was first introduced to the works of Pina Bausch, the iconic Artistic Director of Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch.  I really enjoyed the performance of Vollmond at the 2008 Hong Kong Arts Festival, and I'd been looking forward to another chance to catch more of the same.

A lot of things have changed since that time.  The grand mistress herself has sadly passed away back in 2009, just days after having been diagnosed with cancer.  Since there will no longer be new works coming out, we have no choice but to be content with revisiting the large collection of Pina's previous works.  This month the company is making 2 stops in Asia - performing Água for 4 days in Taipei, and Nelken for 3 days in Hong Kong.

Nelken dates from 1982, towards the first half of the company's history.  I found it to be very different from Vollmond, as it's a lot more theater and a lot less dance.  There's heavy use of recorded music from the first half of the last century, as opposed to pieces which are more modern.

The piece opens with the stage covered with a bed of artificial carnations (nelken is the German word for carnations), and during the course of the performance dancers proceed to trample them to the ground.  By the end of the performance there are few left standing.  The devastation of the flower bed is complete.

At various points, the male dancers all wear dresses on stage and look a little strange in clothes which don't fit them.  They run around on stage, and every once in a while are stopped by border guards - sometimes accompanied by German Shepherds - demanding to see their passports.  Have the cross-dressing men in fact crossed forbidden bounderies?

There's a lot more dialog, and even some parts where the performers interact with the audience.  Near the end of the performance, each dancer announced to the audience the reason they became a dancer in the first place.  Some dancers translated some of their lines into Cantonese - a move much appreciated by the crowd - although I needed to pay real attention to pick out the words through their thick accents.  Sign language is also used in both at the beginning and at the end.

But there are striking similarities between Nelken and Vollmond.  Both pieces feature sections where the performance degenerated into what seemed like total chaos, with numerous dancers each doing his/her own thing and multiple dialogs mixed in with jarring music.  We also see dancers in spastic mode in both pieces, as well as women facing repetitive violence and abuse.  While there are certainly lighter, playful moments in Nelken, there is no doubt about the dark and disturbed theme.  Vollmond delivered pretty much the same mood.

I realized I preferred Vollmond over Nelken, as the former's musical score and dance movements simply struck a cord.  It's a pity I wasn't able to travel to Taipei last week to catch Água, as I think I would have enjoyed that particular performance.  Oh well... next time.

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