Today there's even more snow on the ground and the wind-chill temperature minus 16, but I can't go clogging up my blog with snowy pictures. Let me tell you about Pina Bausch instead!
To quote Cathy Levy, Producer of Dance programming at our National Arts Centre, no one can ignore Pina Bausch. Trained in New York in the 1950s and now aged 67, she's a latterday Expressionist from Germany who has revolutionised the way we see contemporary dance. For example, her version of The Rite of Spring is danced on a stage covered with wet mud. Here is an extract from it. Scary, isn't it? Her choreography is provocative, political, pessimistic, but, especially since she has "mellowed", it can also be touching and funny.
Ms Levy first met her in Wuppertal in 2001 to persuade her to bring her company to Ottawa and the show she put on here in 2004, Masurca Fogo, a tribute to Portugal, was such a howling success that fans from as far away as Winnipeg came to see it. Pedro Almodovar, who used footage of Masurca Fogo in his wonderful film Hable con ella (2002) said:
I saw Masurca Fogo in Barcelona and was struck by its vitality and optimism, its bucolic air and those unexpected images of painful beauty which made me cry from pure pleasure.
Pina Bausch is a personal friend of Almodovar.
In 1997 she created Der Fensterputzer, a production the company put on in Istanbul and at one point in the performance the dancers approached the front row of the audience and showed them family photos that they had fished out of their pockets. The Turkish people responded spontaneously by showing the dancers their own family photos in exchange! Pina Bausch was so delighted by this interaction that she decided to make her next "city" project a dance about Istanbul (her aim is to capture the essence of a city after being immersed in it) and that's what I watched last night in rehearsal: it's called Nefés. This is a Turkish word meaning "breath". Pina Bausch, being "obsessed with the beauty of water", incorporates plenty of water into this spectacle. At one point dramatically spotlit water falls in a sort of cloudburst from a very great height into the shallow pool (representing the Bosphorus perhaps) that lies in a hollow centre stage and a frenetic male dancer reaches the climax of his solo by splashing around in it and getting his trousers sopping wet. I don't think they should have shown this on the publicity poster as this dramatic moment would be more effective if it came as a surprise. Our small audience at the open rehearsal were gasping all the same.
The first scene begins in a hammam, a Turkish bathhouse, with the men scantily clad in bathtowels. The background music is middle eastern. Women with long hair come and comb it over them, thrown forward over their faces, and then they fetch bowls of soapy water. Pulling pillowcases out of the water they blow them up by mouth to make balloons, then squeeze them to get the bubbles out, which fall over the men's prone bodies. This is fascinating! In another scene, two Asian girls sit side by side at the front of the stage, indulging in a picnic, Turkish honey (spotlit) streaming from crusts of bread which they hold above their heads, into their mouths. Then from the distant corner of the stage comes a sort of vision, a graceful Indian girl in a slim white dress, walking slowly towards us. On her head a long stick is balanced with a transparent water bag on either end. The water-carrier holds it quite steady as a young man lets her step up onto his hands, hand over hand, as if she is climbing steps. Later on we see the same girl in pink robes dancing to a fusion of jazz and Indian music, her movements reflecting this. She seems to float above the floorboards, absolutely amazing.