PERFORMANCE STUDY: PINA BAUSCH'S 'WALZER'
For several years, I've tried to write about Pina Bausch, but her work is so complex that I haven't figured out how to do it properly. Plus, there's not a lot about her online in English, and going to the library to check out books is more than I have time for these days.
So, I've decided to bite off what I can chew, and start writing about her individual performances instead; beginning by focusing on Walzer, a 1982 piece first performed in Amsterdam.
Bausch began working in a time when West Germany was still a thing. A classically trained ballerina, Bausch helped forge modern dance, eventually forming her own dance theatre called Tanztheater Wuppertal. (Tanztheater is a combination of dance and theatre, as the name suggests, which was created by Bausch's teacher, Kurt Jooss).
After completing grade school, Pina received a scholarship to go to Juilliard in New York in 1960. Two years later, Bausch returned to Germany.
So now, after many years of much ado, check out the few clips I could find from Walzer
Out of all the performances Pina Bausch has choreographed, Walzer is of the more difficult ones to find in video online. And there are very few reviews in English. But since I'm a nerd and have a sign-in to an academic journal catalogue, I was able to find a review of the original 1982 performance written by Helen M Whall in the Theater Journal Review:
Walzer takes place in a ballroom located on board a transatlantic oceanliner docked in the harbor at Homburg [sic]. No doubt a party is about to begin, a send-off gala, perhaps, or an evening of organized fun on shipboard. The guests, women in long strapless gowns and men in dark suits, begin to arrive...
When not dancing or chasing each other, they lie about the large stage, empty but for a grand piano far left and a few potted trees and some chairs along the edges... building human pyramids and changing their patterns whenever they please, or drawing foot steps and following the "leader." Other ships may come and go – "Welcome to the Prince Hamlet" and "Homburg wishes you a good voyage," we hear the loudspeaker system announce – but this one seems a pleasure cruise suspended in mid-voyage, holding the promise of "La Vie en Rose" forever, as Edith Piaf's song, played on a taped recording, suggests.
By creating a type of dance-theatre Bausch conveys emotions more severely than dance alone can. Her signature gowns on female performers gives a vintage air to her aesthetic, as does the story taking place on a ship; but the absurdities going on in Walzer forces the audience to look at the performance through a post-modern lens.
Since I only have three partial clips of Walzer to look at, it's pretty difficult to analyze the piece as a whole, but I'll just do like historians and archeologists did with the Greek fragments and just work with what I've got.
It's hard to say what bausch 'meant' in putting this performance together, but I know from translated interviews that she was more interested in how emotion can make one move, rather than how movement can evoke emotion. And we can infer from the title, Walzer (German for waltz), that the piece is centered around people waltzing. Maybe the piece was an absurdist nod to the "vie en rose" as described in the review above that was taking place all over the world in the 1980s and continues today with the "Peter Pan" culture the boomers accuse my generation and younger of living.
Throughout the performance, it seems that there is one fairly hysterical woman. First seen screaming at the sight of another party goer's acrobatic dives, later having a full-on fit, and lastly begrudgingly dancing along to a choreographed waltz with her fellow ship mates.
In the second clip, it is clear that Bausch uses the hysterical woman to comment on the objectification of women, as well as the dying standards of what it means to be a "lady." She is also very much pointing out that a dancer who knows ballet has the free will to do otherwise with her body. Because Bausch was a classically trained ballerina, and could not have pushed the envelope without mastering the classical framework, I think the portion of the second clip where the young woman walks about with a "ballet turnout," talking about what she can do as opposed to what she wants to do, is very important for Pina Bausch's work.
I wish there was more to see so that we could piece together what Walzer 'does' because I think that Pina Bausch certainly conveyed some good messages with this performance, but since the rest is left to speculation, I will stay in wonder for now. I see that I can purchase a dvd (lol) but it only has clips of this performance. So maybe we will never be able to see the piece in its entirety, but I'm glad that I got this draft (that has been sitting here since August 2017) completed. My first attempt at covering Pina Bausch took me forever and it's not even a whole piece. Haha.
Now that I've shown myself that covering her work piece by piece is feasible I hope to study her work more soon. Keep posted.
Courtney Bagtazo © BAGTAZO, 2018