The spirit of Pina in film, photos and the memories of Lutz Förster

Lutz Förster looks like David Bowie and dances with the charm of Fred Astaire.

To see him manipulating his hat with all the cool of Astaire as he dances to Irving Berlin’s Isn’t This a Lovely Day, is to see perfection.

We saw Förster on film during an interview with Caroline Baum on the final day of the annual Spring Dance festival at the Sydney Opera House.

He seemed a bit put out by the three snippets of film, chosen by Baum, that were interspersed with her questions on his work with Pina Bausch.

“I do much more than that”, he told Baum.

I guess he meant much trickier moves than he makes in the Astaire number or the tiny gestures that he makes to the song, Para los niños de ayer hoy y mañana, or his sign language performance to the song, The Man I Love.

But it’s the detail and exactness of his subtle movements that intrigue.

He told the audience that Pina choreographed every move herself, although she left him to work out how to link the gestures.

They met in 1974 when he was a student at Essen where Pina had taught before setting up her company in Wuppertal. She watched him in class and chose him to dance in one of her works, asking for “the tall one with a big nose and a perfect second position”.

Four years later, he danced with her again in Kontakthof, an important work that brought Pina attention from theatre directors around the world.

Förster mentioned the importance of Kurt Jooss and Jose Limon in Pina’s life. He has danced in works by Limon and knew his emphasis on the “fall and rebound” ideas of his teacher, Doris Humphrey who said that “falling and recovering is the very stuff of movement, the constant flux which is going on in every living body, in all its tiniest parts, all the time”.

This legacy can be seen in Pina’s works.

Asked about the inspiration for The Man I Love, Förster replied “the adult version?”

It seems he was on holiday in California with a new boyfriend who taught sign language to the deaf.

His friend explained the basics of signing and they agreed that Förster would practise to the song The Man I Love.

Back in Germany with Pina, Förster waited for the next task she put to her dancers: “Do something you’re proud of”.

“I showed her the sign language”. Pina smiled. The song/signing was in her next work.

Whenever her former dancers or colleagues speak of Pina, they seem to respond with pithy quotes.

Förster’s was this: “She could make you insecure in a second”.

The spirit of Pina was everywhere in the Opera House over the last few weeks, with William Yang’s brilliant photographs of her company taken in 1982 at the Adelaide Festival on the walls of the foyer. They are vivid, revealing, and energetic – and look as if they were taken yesterday.

The second video of the piece 1980 was filmed at Sadlers Wells Theatre. Meryl Tankard features.

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