Pina Bausch’s VollMoon
It was a bittersweet feeling that crept up my spine as I entered Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Gilman Opera House on October 8th. The anxious expectation that usually accompanies audience members awaiting the spectacle that is Bausch was tempered by the reality that her death means that there will never again be a “New Pina” to see. It was in a sense like attending a memorial service. I have been a fan of Bausch but not one who worships at the “She can do no wrong” alter. Where I am a follower, personally I have never regarded her work and being “lovable” I feel it far too layered and complex to make such a blanket incomplete statement. A more appropriate term for my feelings might be to say that I find her work evocative, which can go in a myriad of directions – love, hate, discomfort, humor, sadness, and remembrance hence making the experience varied from moment to moment. There are times when I am completely enthralled, and others when I am bored, irritated, and anxiously waiting for a segment to end. I find it akin to watching Butoh visually stunning, at times slow to get to the “point”, and having soporific moments, but if you take the journey you end up on the other side, in a different place, and transformed (if only from endurance).
I was pleased that this production VollMond (Full Moon created in 2006), kept me enraptured throughout. The simplicity of the set (a huge boulder and a stream of water upstage) along with intermittent rainfall was mesmerizing. Along with the visual affect of the spray, the use of the sound of water falling, crashing against the rock, splashing or being waded through created a separate character that enhanced the other elements (lights, music, costuming and dancers) and added another layer to the soundtrack of the piece. The one place Bausch never disappointed is in her choice of music. It always rocks. There were of course the trademark use of chairs, fire, clothing and ironic often saucy dialogue. Bottles of water, and glasses acted as foreshadowing of the aquatic theme and were introduced early with glasses being filled to overflowing and streams of water spit from the mouths of dancers. Those of us in the front rows grew a bit nervous wondering if a Gallagher like rain ponchos would be in order (they weren’t). There were the quintessential Bauschisms of repetition both gesturally and verbally- a woman cuts a lemon and while squeezing it on her arms, neck and head repeats “I wait, I wait, I wait” which in time emotionally transforms in to “I cry, I cry I cry” and back again to the waiting.
It is in brief moments like these when I fall in love with the mind of Pina for her ability to distill emotions, relationships, and the often-poignant banalities of life into 30-60 second snippets that communicate the depth and sad, silly irony of the situation. For me this is her brilliance, this and her movement. Ok this moves into a nebulous place for me, as there is as much to be lauded as there is to be questioned. There are few things that get under my skin when I watch this incarnation of Pina (for she like any artist has moved through her “periods”) the men in her company move- and when I say move the four-letter word is not enough to express what they physically execute. Both in solos, duets and in-group work they dance with a reckless abandon that is at once exhilarating and frightening. Rainer Behr and Fernando Suels Mendoza are inexplicable phenomenal, both together and alone. However the women are more tempered, almost politely lady-like while highly sexy and enticing. Their work is often more gestural and refined. The trademark long glamorous gowns seem to restrain them from lashing out and breaking loose. What is not bound is their hair. The hair is used like a third arm or leg crafted into the movement phrase—constantly being slung to and fro or manipulated in some way (this for me is a source of irritation I just want for a pair of scissors). It is as though to Pina these two things represent femininity -a long evening gown and flowing hair. Interestingly enough in Vollmond the women not only have to content with the abundance of hair and skirt but the effect the water has upon them. Witnessing them sloshing around weight ed by fabric made me think of the women in Victorian times that died at sea when ships went down unable to swim under the weight of their dresses they drowned. I wanted to liberate them from their bondage gender costumes and as Djimon Hounsou said in Spielberg’s Amistad “Give us our free”.
Where the women are entangled either in their hair or dresses their emotions and frustrations are liberally taken out on the men, in the form of with S&M like orders, slaps, denials of affection or the aggressive pursuits. I have always found Bausch’s take on relationships, power, control and sex (all of which carry a sort of redundancy) fascinating, truthful and highly telling- what is says about her is unclear but when one’s identifies one’s self in a scenario it is either comforting, highly unnerving or hilarious.
One thing that was interesting about the company was that they are all mature dancers. It was refreshing to see. The level physical and emotional understanding and gravitas those dancers embodied was palpable. It was wonderful to see the experience s of a body- the life it has lived, the lessons it has learned seep through and saturate the movement with intent and purpose. It’s like red velvet cake, sweet and delicious.
Vollmond was enchanting. Whether it was sheer exhaustion or the high that taking that physical journey through her work bringing her closer to them or them to her I am not sure, but at the final curtain call you could almost feel her dancers hearts and spirits reaching out to touch hers. Bathed in the wash of accolades and bravos they stood arm in arm collectively searched that point in the Universe where the now and what was gently, and ever so gently caress. In that moment there was a quiet divinity.