Born in 1940, Pina Bausch spearheaded the first post-war generation continuation of the challenge against “formal techniques of modern dance” (Partsch-Bergsohn, 2012: p16). She graduated from the Folkwang-Hochschule when she was just 18, and 4 years later began work under Kurt Jooss. She was renowned for basing a lot of her dance theatre (or Tanztheater) on surrealism; demonstrating autobiographical stories in an incredibly intense way. Through exploration of human emotions and almost meaningless movement-based reactions, her work is entirely individual; certainly, she was a revolutionary for the dance world.
We see in her piece, Rite of Spring (1975), Bausch develops a distinctly new style of dance; described by Mark O’Flaherty as “an episode of violent release” (2013) as the dancers move in a frantic manner, ranging from dramatic solo movements to visceral, tightly choreographed group routines. One of Bausch’s key techniques is that of repetition; particularly, in this routine, repetition builds the panic of the overall piece.
Another technique Bausch frequented was that of restriction; her performers would wear difficult costumes – such as tight dresses and high heels – or perform around sets created to the excess. For example, in Kontakthof where the performers are in evening wear, or in Vollmond (2006) where they must perform with the obstacle of water.
Another renowned piece is Kontakthof (1978) in which we encounter overemphasised gender stereotypes through a demonstration of human yearning for intimacy. In this piece, the actors become almost like pieces of meat – Bausch herself links this to when she had to step forward at dance auditions to show off her body. The march in Kontakthof is another example of Bausch drawing from ‘everydayness’ to choreograph material; it seems to have a parallel with the memory of marching soldiers during Bausch’s youth.
Café Müller (1978)
One review in The Guardian denotes how Pina Bausch’s work on Café Müller stems from her “remembering the scene by touch” (Mackrell, 2008) as her childhood memories unfold around her. In a country and time period shaken by the horrors of war, she captures the essence of humans distracting themselves from their own poor choices and lack of integrity, through storytelling and menial activities – she draws this piece from the inside out, externalising the internal and showing what can never normally be witnessed.
This idea of muscle memory and repetition links decisively to the section explored in the video above in which the movement of one particular couple is manipulated by an external force (the tall, dark-haired dancer) to the point at which they simply continue the sequence of movements themselves, without prompting. The repetition becomes almost aggressive; this is heightened by the fact you can hear their frantic breath as they fight the magnetism drawing them together whilst simultaneously being wrenched apart and moulded into a more physical demonstration of affection. Arguably, this level of control can be linked to the idea of strictly choreographed dance – essentially what Bausch wanted to challenge in her own work – in which dancers find themselves meticulously controlled in a series of movement until they can perform the piece effortlessly.
- Mackrell, J. (2008) Dance review: Pina Bausch Wuppertal Tanztheater / Sadler’s wells, London. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2008/feb/14/dance1 (Accessed: 1 March 2017).
O’Flaherty, M.C. (2013) From the pet shop boys to Pina Bausch | the rite of spring. Available at: http://civilianglobal.com/arts/the-rite-of-spring-pina-bausch-centenary-of-the-rite-of-spring-stravinsky-theatre-des-champs-elysees/ (Accessed: 1 March 2017).
- Partsch-Bergsohn, I. (2012) The Pina Bausch sourcebook: The making of Tanztheater. Edited by Royd Climenhaga. New York: Taylor & Francis.