In Memorium: Pina Bausch (1940-2009)


Pina Bausch died on June 30th in Wuppertal, Germany at the age of 68. I had not planned to comment on Venetian Red, but since a week has passed and she is still very much in my thoughts I wanted to acknowledge her passing. Many years ago, when I first saw her Tanztheater Wuppertal at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, I had read about her work, but was completely unprepared for the enormous impact the performance would have on me. After that evening, I knew that I would see her work wherever and whenever possible.

PinaNelkenPina Bausch, Nelken

When we entered the theater at BAM that first night to see Palermo, Palermo, the entire proscenium opening was filled with a solid wall of cinder block—in fact, we wondered how the dancers could possibly perform on the sliver of stage that remained in front of the wall. At curtain time, the wall began to move and shake and soon crashed backwards on to the stage, leaving the entire theater filled with clouds of dust and the stage completely littered with huge chunks of cement and debris. Then the dancers emerged (the women, as they often were in Bausch’s work, in 4-inch heels) and the astonishing piece unfolded amid the ruins.

PinaTenChiPina Bausch, Ten Chi

Pina Bausch created an entirely new form of dance that she called tanztheater—the dancers ran, walked, threw themselves from great heights, spoke, sang, fought and yelled, usually while navigating a stage covered with dirt, flowers, rubble or water. The dramas they enacted were hilarious, tragic, sexual, reflective and spiritual–often all at once. It’s impossible to describe the impact of these all-encompassing performances when seen in person—their astonishing beauty and emotional impact—but glimpses can be seen in this video and the many others on YouTube.

At the time of her death, Wim Wenders was filming Pina, a 3-D dance film of her work. He has temporarily suspended production, and I ardently hope that he and her dance troupe can find their way to complete the film.

Bausch is often quoted as saying she was “not interested in how people move but in what moves them.” While acknowledging her dancers’ technique, she said “I look for something else. The possibility of making them feel what each gesture means internally. Everything must come from the heart, must be lived.”


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