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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Pina Bausch, in her own words

Many works by Pina Bausch (1940—2009) can and have been parsed for complex emotional and psychological meaning, including the two in the 2017 Next Wave Festival, The Rite of Spring and Café Müller. Many of her creative impulses grew from life experiences in her youth, and the means—dance and movement—through which she found true expression. Bausch’s parents owned a small hotel with a restaurant, where she spent many a night tucked under a table, music in the air, observing the messy, ever-changing humanity unfolding around her amidst a time of war. She was certainly influenced by the Folkwang School where she studied with Kurt Jooss, learning free expression alongside classical technique, and gaining exposure to other genres. But she would develop her own style of tanztheater, enfolding all of the disparate elements to craft a completely unique vision that has influenced generations of artists.

Following, in Bausch’s own words mined from remarks and interviews, are thoughts and influences that informed her work emerge to form a picture of how her remarkable point of view came to life.

Nazareth Panadero, Rolf Borzik, Dominique Mercy in Café Muller. Copyright Graziano Arici.

From "What Moves Me" speech by Pina Bausch when presented the 2007 Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy (full text here):

"Even the restaurant in our hotel was highly interesting for me. My parents had to work a great deal and weren’t able to look after me. In the evenings, when I was actually supposed to go to bed, I would hide under the tables and simply stay there. I found what I saw and heard very exciting: friendship, love, and quarrels—simply everything that you can experience in a local restaurant like this. I think this stimulated my imagination a great deal. I have always been a spectator. Talkative, I certainly wasn’t. I was more silent."

"I was ravenous to learn and to dance. That is why I applied for a scholarship from the German academic exchange service for the USA. And I did in fact receive it. Only then did it become clear what that meant: traveling by ship to America, aged 18 years, all alone, without being able to speak a word of English. My parents took me to Cuxhaven. A brass band was playing as the ship was setting off and everybody was crying. Then I went onto the ship and waved. My parents were also waving and crying. And I was standing on the deck and crying too; it was terrible. I had the feeling we would never see each other again."

"Almost every day I watched performances. There were so many things, all of them important and unique; therefore I decided to stay two years on the money that was only intended for one. That meant saving! I walked everywhere. For a time I live almost exclusively on ice cream—nut-flavored ice cream. Accompanying this was a bottle of buttermilk, a lot of lemon that was lying around on the tables, and a large amount of sugar. All mixed together, it tasted very good. It was a wonderful main meal."

The Rite of Spring. Copyright Oliver Look.

"... I paid more and more attention to the voice within me. To my movement. I had the feeling that something was becoming purer and purer, deeper and deeper. Perhaps it was all in the mind. But a transformation was taking place. Not only with my body."

"During the second year in New York, I was lucky to be hired by Antony Tudor, who was artistic director at the Metropolitan Opera [Ballet] at the time. The Met was another important experience. It was the time when Callas had unfortunately just left. But you could still sense her. Apart from the fact that I was dancing a lot, I was also watching plenty of operas or would hear the singers in the changing room over the loudspeakers. What a joy it is to learn to distinguish between voices. To listen very exactly."

"Actually, the whole time I only wanted to dance. I had to dance, simply had to dance. That was the language with which I was able to express myself. Even in my first choreographed pieces in Wuppertal, I was thinking of course that I would be dancing the role of the victim in Sacre and in Iphigenie the part of Iphigenie, for example. These roles were all written with my body. But the responsibility as choreographer had always held back the urge to dance. And this is how it came that I actually have passed on to others this love, which I have inside me, this great desire to dance." 

Azusema Seyama and Scott Jennings in Café Muller. Copyright Bo Lahola.

"For more than 27 years now, Peter Pabst [set designer] and I have been involved with great pleasure in the adventure of doing a piece that doesn’t exist yet. But that is not all. For me Peter Pabst is not only important as a set designer, but through his advice and actions, for us all and for the many concerns of the dance theater, he has become indispensable."

"For example, the curtain rises, a wall–the wall tumbles, a crash–dust: how do dancers react to this? Or you come into the auditorium: a meadow, smell of grass, mosquitoes; everything that happens is very quiet. Water: it reflects, it splashes, it makes noises. Clothes become wet and stick to the body. Or: Snow is falling; it might also be blossoms… Each new piece is a new world."

"It is a special and beautiful coincidence that I have been living and working in Wuppertal for over 30 years, in a town that I have known since my childhood. I like being in this town, because it is an everyday town, not a Sunday town. Our rehearsal room is the Lichtburg, a former cinema from the 50s. When I go into the Lichtburg, past a bus stop, then I see almost daily many people who are very tired and sad. And these feelings too are captured in our pieces."

"I once said, ‘I’m not interested in how people move but what moves them.’ This sentence has been quoted many times; it is still true up to the present day."

"I have travelled a long way. Together with my dancers, and with all the people I am working with. I have had so much luck in my life, above all through our journeys and friendships. This I wish for a lot of people: that they should get to know other cultures and ways of life. There would be much less fear of others, and one could see much clearer what joins us all. I think it is important to know the world one lives in."


The Rite of Spring. Photo by Ulli Weiss, copyright Pina Bausch Foundation.

From The Pina Bausch Sourcebook: The Making of Tanztheater:

"I never thought of being a choreographer. The only reason I made those pieces was because I wanted to express myself differently and I wanted to dance."

"What I do: I watch ... I have simply looked at human relationships and tried to see them, tried to speak about them. That’s what I am interested in. I don’t know of anything more important."

"I think it is beautiful, real things on stage, dirt, leaves, water. It has a lot to do with what children do. What we did in rehearsals and in performance you are usually only allowed to do as a child—splashing in the water, getting dirty, painting your face, playing."

"It is not that I wanted to confront people. The misunderstanding is not that I love violence, it was quite the opposite. I was terrified of violence, but I wanted to understand the person doing the violence. That was the exploration."


From "Pina, Queen of the Deep," Sydney Morning Herald interview with Valerie Lawson (2000):

"I loved to dance because I was scared to speak. When I was moving, I could feel."

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