March 9, 2017

Café Müller and the Rite of Spring

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It's been a long, few years, but I finally got to see live performances by Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch again.  Three years ago I missed the opportunity to see them when I stupidly double-booked myself and left my friend stranded by herself.  This time I wasn't gonna be so stupid, and I dutifully logged in to Hong Kong Art Festival's website just hours after booking opened to get my tickets.

Tonight the company was presenting two of their most iconic works.  I had seen snippets of both in Pina, the movie by Wim Wenders, but I would finally get to see the entire works, live.

We started with Café Müller, which was first performed in 1978.  The set was the interior to an empty cafe, with tables and chairs dotted all over the stage.  A set of revolving doors was placed at the corner upstage right, and there are plexiglass walls indicating the boundaries of the cafe.

The music for the piece is pretty... sad... to say the least.  It was basically a woman waddling in melancholy, weeping - which set the mood for the piece.  One of the female characters spends most of the piece walking aimlessly through the space with her eyes closed, wearing a pained expression, and in fact ends up mostly against one wall or another.

One of the male characters spends his time clearing tables and chairs from the paths of the women walking through the café.  I guess that's to signify what adults often do to their children - trying to make sure they don't hurt each other.

Most of the audience would likely focus their attention on the main couple, who find each other in the middle of the floor and immediately go about embracing each other.  Another character comes and intervenes, manually adjusting the couple's embrace to another posture.  As soon as the intervener leaves, the couple reverts to their original embrace - at which point the intervener returns to make the same adjustments.  The process is repeated at an ever faster pace - until at some point the couple goes through the adjustment process themselves without the need for anyone to intervene.  I guess in life, our natural behaviors are often corrected by others in society to conform to accepted norms... and eventually we just end up doing what society wants us to do instead of what is natural for us.

The characters also go through plenty of internal struggle and pain... The main couple also go through cycles where they flail each other against the wall.  Violent and destructive.  Oh and there's unrequited love, too...

No, there's no happy ending here.  Nobody walks out with smiles on their faces.

The Rite of Spring is seemingly more upbeat - at least it's set to Stravinsky's score originally composed for Ballets Russes.  For this piece from 1975, the stage is covered in a layer of brown "earth", and the piece begins with a woman lying face down on top of what seemed to be a piece of red cloth.  This red slip is then discarded, picked up, and passed around throughout the piece - all the while groups of female and male dancers come on stage and perform a dance that seemed ritualistic and certainly animalistic, and reminiscent of tribal fertility rituals.

A victim is chosen for the ritual sacrifice, and she dons the red slip.  The emotions are so intense that by the end of the piece, she was literally in tears.  Such is the level of character immersion demanded.  I couldn't help but join others to give her - and the rest of the cast - a standing ovation.

Maybe it was because of casting rotation, but I didn't see some of the more senior cast members I had seen in previous performances.  Dominique Mercy was notably absent, and his role in Café Müller was taken over by Scott Jennings.  I was very glad to see Christiana Morganti in the piece.

Azusa Seyama and Michael Strecker seemed to be the only dancers who performed in both pieces - with Michael being the oldest dancer in the Rite of Spring.  I guess that's understandable, since the older members of the company would look a little out of place in a piece about a fertility ritual...

I was very happy to have finally watched these two pieces in a live performance.  I guess I'll have to wait for another 3 years before the company returns to Hong Kong...  But the bonus of the evening?  I finally was able to get my hands on the CDs of the music from Vollmond, the first Pina Bausch piece I ever saw.  I just love the music, and I was happy that I didn't have to order the CD all the way from Germany.

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