1980, A Piece by Pina Bausch at Sadler’s Wells

16 Feb

I just came back from Sadler’s Wells after watching a performance of ‘1980, A Piece by Pina Bausch’ and I am still not entirely sure what I feel about it.  Before tonight, all I knew was that Bausch was a famous German choreographer and I’d seen a clip of her choreography from the Spanish film, ‘Talk to her’ (‘Hable con ella’), which is probably my favourite Almodovar film.  And from that short clip, I was introduced to Bausch’s whimsical, highly emotionally charged contemporary dancing, so I was looking forward to lots of that tonight.

In that respect, then, I was disappointed.  There was very little ‘dance’ but had I read up on the performance, I would have been prepared for that so perhaps that disappointment is invalidated.  Instead, what I experienced was over three hours of a surreal exploration of the innocence of childhood and the strange superficiality of adulthood.  The stage became a meadow, complete with real grass and flies, and the actors/ dancers (it’s hard to know what they should be classed as) switched from children playing games to adults competing in beauty contests.

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The performance had that strange combination of humour and lingering sadness, a kind of wistfulness or regret.  I enjoyed the acute observations on society, for instance, the numerous meaningless platitudes that adults dole out every day that serves to highlight how disconnected we are.  Even the explorations into childhood seem to be tinged with darkness, and the vision of fully grown adults acting as children is strangely peculiar. Then again, the adults acting as adults often do, can seem even more bizarre and comical at times, such as the sunbathing scene where everyone puts on a ridiculous display to catch some rays.

Although I did enjoy the performance, I didn’t love it.  I understand the need for repetition to emphasise the main themes in the piece but I think some of it was too drawn out and excessive, especially for a performance that is well over three hours long.  Also, a lot of the time, it seemed like the dancers were just walking slowly and sombrely around the stage, and at times I wanted to shake them into something more.  Yes, the soundtrack was great and atmospheric, but I felt that some parts of the piece relied more on the quality of the soundtrack rather than the content.  The actors/ dancers were amazing and it was obvious they were putting their heart and soul into the performance.  However, for me, too much of that performance required walking slowly around the stage and delivering repetitive monologues, some funny, some thought-provoking but some bordering on the pretentious.  A dreamlike experience that I found perceptive, confusing, comical, melancholic but ultimately very frustrating.  One thing’s for sure though – it’s definitely not to everyone’s taste and at the moment, I’m still trying to decide whether it might be to mine.

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