Pina Bausch’s “Kontakthof”- a reaction not a review

by danielgoode

Too long by a lot, yet magisterial, a spectacle, with twenty-three dancers on stage much of the time. Women in ballroom solid color dresses danced either in heels or barefoot. Men were in ugly charcoal black or grey suits over white shirts with ties. Music hall, tango-ish numbers on scratchy low fidelity recordings, in German, dancers often speaking, in English, sometimes screaming, insufferable repetition of “darling” by one, overuse of the same recorded songs became finally a good move, supplemented by the “Third Man” theme, and a music-hall kind of recording of Sibelius’s “Valse Triste.”

Yes, “kontakt,” lots of it: from curiosity, sensuality, hostility, mixtures of all, sometimes very fast transitions from one to the other, very heterosexual. Sense of discomfort, awkwardness was an affect of the dancers, a theme of the choreographer. A lot of this piece appeared in Wim Wenders wonderful documentary of the Tanztheater of Pina Bausch (who died in 2009). Typical of the company’s easy-going approach to time was a line-up of all the dancers sitting in a row facing the audience each telling some personal story softly in their own language while another took the mic from to each one of all twenty-two, letting each story fall where it may in the middle. “Heavenly length?” An issue worth pursuing. In spite of the speaking, singing, screaming, no attempt to have a sculpted vocal theater like Meredith Monk’s.

Big age range, it seems, in the dancers. Lots over forty and beyond.

The appropriation of everyday movements into dance is familiar to us, and I’m guessing this piece is from the ’70’s or so when this was happening here too. It must have been shocking to a staid German audience of the time. Yet even now, some images were frightening: a female dancer being felt, felt up, slapped, lifted, manipulated by a large group of the men dancers. With my binoculars I was able to see that it was not a smile on her face, but an open-mouthed crying. Not funny. Yet a lot of the piece was mildly parodistic, and just plain pleasant. Especially the large rings of dancers walking in time over the generous whole of the Howard Gilman Opera House at BAM.

Thumbnail Review #42

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