Seeing through the mask: a new book on the life and work of Pina Bausch

In a recent edition of Dance Europe magazine, Paul Lightfoot, artistic director of Nederlands Dans Theater, names Pina Bausch as the greatest choreographer of the 20th century.

Asked why, Lightfoot replied: “Well, we all need a mother don’t we?

“I first saw her perform when I was very young and I have always admired everything she did…I have often thought that I’d have loved to work with Pina because as a choreographer she just blew me away.”

In the short video (below) released to promote NDT’s current season, perhaps you can see some references in Bausch’s work and in particular in SH-BOOM!, choreographed by Lightfoot and Sol Léon, in which men in love try to impress women.

SH-BOOM!, a reference to Stan Freberg’s 1950s hit, Sh-Boom, Life Could be a Dream (a sendup of rhythm and blues), is one of four works that NDT is performing in Sydney in June. (The others are Jiri Kylian’s Sarabande and Sweet Dreams, and Shoot the Moon, choreographed by Lightfoot and l Léon.)

The powerful and far reaching influence of Bausch is explored in a new book, The Pina Bausch Sourcebook, The Making of Tanztheater, edited by Royd Climenhaga, and published simultaneously in London and New York by Routledge.

Climenhaga, a member of the arts faculty at Eugene Lang College/The New School University in New York City, has selected a collection of many articles and essays written about Bausch and her company.

They are grouped into five categories, Dance and Theatre Roots and Connections, Bausch’s Developmental Process, The Creation of Tanztheater, Bausch’s Reception and Critical Perspectives.

Among the most interesting articles are those written by performers who worked with Bausch including Raimund Hoghe who was a dramaturge for Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal from 1980 to 1990.

He writes: “…parades of human behaviour are often found in Bausch’s pieces, tired and aggressive, embarrassed and arrogant, anxious and searching, tense and friendly, gestures are visible reactions to invisible situations.

“The seemingly personal and yet universal gestures, not placed in a (theatre) story become the story itself, and reflect the traces of a lived and unlived life”.

Hoghe quotes Bausch: “We really are quite transparent if we just look at each other. The way someone walks or how they carry themselves says something about the way they live, or about what happened to them.

“Somewhere it’s all visible, even if you try to hold back.”

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Pina Bausch in Cafe Muller, photographer unknown

Pina Bausch in Cafe Muller, photographer unknown