Posts tagged Dance
PERFORMANCE STUDY: PINA BAUSCH'S 'WALZER'
 
STILL FROM WALZER, 1982

STILL FROM WALZER, 1982

 

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.

xoxo


COURTNEY CADY © BAGTAZO, 2018


BIBLIOGRAPHY

REVIEWED WORKS: WALZER ; NELKEN BY PINA BAUSCH, PHILIPPA WHELE & HELEN M WHALL. THEATER REVIEW JOURNAL, VOL 36, NO 2, THE MARGINS OF PERFORMANCE, (MAY, 1984), PP 240-243

FEELING PINA: HOW THE CHOREOGRAPHER MOVED PEOPLE, VELLEDA C CECCOLI. PSYCHOLOGY TOMORROW MAGAZINE. NOV 5, 2012


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PERFORMANCE STUDY: SQUAREGAME VIDEO

I've been having a hard time adjusting (schedule-wise) to my new life in New York. I really love it here, but I'm so busy trying to settle in that a weekly post has been asking a bit too much of me during this transition process.

But here's a cool video of Merce Cunningham Dance Company in 1976 moving around in ways that I think accurately expresses how I feel rn trying to jump around from here to there in order to find my stride.

I've had intentions in doing an in-depth study of Merce Cunningham on this blog, but for now here's less than a minute of footage to tide you over.

More regularity to come soon, I promise.

xx


Courtney Cady, © 2016



DESIGN STUDY: ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG'S COSTUMES & SET DESIGN

ROBERT RAUCHENBERG FOR MERCE CUNNINGHAM DANCE COMPANY

I've been focused on dance history a lot lately. While studying dance, I've been reading about (and trying) Cunningham Technique. Cunningham Technique is a dance style based on the theory that dance and music should be able to exist independently of each other while sharing the same time and space. This technique was developed in the 1950s by choreographer Merce Cunningham and his partner, composer John Cage. The two worked together to create music and corresponding choreography that played a major role in the shaping of the American avant-garde from the 1950s through the millennium.

In the 1950s, Robert Rauschenberg, a former student of Bauhaus' Josef Albers at Black Mountain College (see my blog post on that dude from a few weeks ago, he rules), Rauschenberg began designing costumes for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Though Rauschenberg is mostly known for his work in Assemblage or Combine Art, his work with costume design, set design and lighting with Merce Cunningham and later, Cunningham's students Paul Taylor and Trisha Brown are the strongest elements of his work in my opinion.

Throughout his career, Rauschenberg not only designed sets, costumes, and lighting, but he also performed and choreographed his own works. Being an artist working in various genres, Rauschenberg blurred the lines between his performance work and his work with other media, often creating pieces in his studio that would later become props, such as Minutiae (1954), which was later used for a Cunningham performance, or First Time Painting (1961), that was made while Rauchenberg was on stage at the American Embassy in Paris as part of the performance Homage to David Tudor (1961). Rauschenberg also created scenery by using found objects and sounds, developing his concept of “live décor,” or scenery generated by human activity.

Rauchenberg performing in his own performance called "Pelican" (1963) after working with the Judson Dance Theater.

Rauchenberg's involvement with Cage and Cunningham positioned him at the cutting edge of postmodern dance, giving him access to performance on a greater scale. After nearly a decade with Cunningham, Rauchenberg worked with the Judson Dance Theater in New York during the 1960s (see my previous post on Meredith Monk for more on the Judson Dance Theater). The Judson Dance Theater is also one of my favorite parts of dance history because as an experimental collective, they included dancers, visual artists and performance artists, which resulted in performances free of narrative, emphasizing instead the purity of movement: sometimes conventionally dance-like, but also with mundane movements.

Through the 1980s to 2000, Rauchenberg continued designing costumes and working with performance, making a large body of work that is now considered art in its own right. Many of his pieces from sets and costumes are displayed in museums and galleries since his death in 2008.


Courtney Cady ©Bagtazo 2015



MOVEMENT STUDY: 'DAS TRIADISCHES BALLETT,' OSKAR SCHLEMMER, AND THE BAUHAUS THEATER

In the early stages of design, I often study art history. This time around, I frequently looked to Bauhaus, a Modernist art movement that spawned from art schools in Germany, and eventually spread throughout Europe in the early 20th Century. My initial impression of Bauhaus was limited to architecture, typography, and design. And then I delved deeper, learning that the group's ethos combined art forms, similar to the American Arts and Crafts movement of the same era. This philosophy, which discarded academic traditions by giving equal weight to various arts, resulted in a multi-disciplinary corpus of work.

Most standard art history timelines omit mention of Bauhaus, and yet the group's work impacted society to such an extent that fonts developed by Bauhaus designers are still used today. Not to mention the returned interest in Bauhaus graphic and textile design, which is happening contemporarily. I also think that the current trend of calling oneself a “maker” indirectly adopts one of the core principles of Bauhaus, namely its attempt at uniting creativity and manufacturing. In melding these two components, Bauhaus was able to encompass various art forms, and so beyond architecture and graphic design, came textile and costume design, as well as dance, performance and theatre.

It is with the latter that I am most intrigued. Partly because many of the participating artists were female, but also because of the bizarre and beautiful nature of the work.

In 1922, Oskar Schlemmer, a professor in the Theatre of Bauhaus debuted Das Triadisches Ballett (The Triadic Ballet) in Stuttgart, Germany. Schlemmer used the human body as a medium, experimenting with pantomime and ballet with this performance, which toured Europe through the mid 1930s. By incorporating costumes that reduced the human figure to geometric, formalist shapes, Das Triadisches provided strange and humorous imagery via dance and dress. 

The Schlemmer Theatre Estate describes Das Triadisches Ballett choreography and color settings, stating that the origin of the title, "Triadic Ballet" derives from the division of the acts:

The first part, which takes place on a stage dressed in lemon yellow colors, is a comedic burlesque. The subject of the second part, on a stage dressed in pink, has a festival/ceremonial air. Finally, the third part is developed in a mystical/fantastical way before a totally black background. Three dancers, two men and a woman, perform twelve dances of alternating forms.

The costumes deliberately limit the participants’ freedom of movement due to the weight of the materials they are made from, their forms, and the masks worn. They are walking architectural structures that move in a comic fashion, playful, sharp, and clumsy across the entire stage. For his figurines, Oskar Schlemmer took advantage of the new technologies of the era, “the scientific apparatus of glass and metal, the artificial members that are used in surgery, the fantastic military and diving uniforms."

I often draw from military costume for inspiration, and so I am especially intrigued by Schlemmer's style in military design. It goes to show that artists can share influences with dissimilar results. I also really love working within certain restraints, like using a Polaroid camera instead of a digital, or in this case dancing in restrictive costumes. If dancers can perform a ballet without restriction, what happens when the artist places themself in a box? Schlemmer's approach in designing the costumes before the choreography explored just that.

In 1968 Das Triadische was reconstructed and performed in a thirty minute piece for German television by Margarete Hasting, Franz Schömbs and Georg Verden. The re-performance of this work was a major feat because it is said that about eight minutes of the original score by Paul Hindersmith remained at the time of reconstruction, and that if Schlemmer had made a more detailed record of the choreography, it no longer existed. Everything was pieced together from notes, mostly from the archive of Schlemmer's 1938 costume and design exhibition at MoMA. Thus the performance and the costumes may not be completely accurate, given these circumstances. It is unclear to me whether the costumes were reconstructed entirely at that time since a few of the original costumes remain in the archive, but there is record that some had to be remade from Schlemmer's drawings.

Regardless of whether the re-performance is entirely accurate, the work is incredible. It is funny to me that what was "modern" in the 1920s was just as modern in 1968, and remains modern today. Generally, what was once experimental later becomes the norm, though in this case the experimental elements of the work with regard to costume and movement remain.

Schlemmer's original work influenced the costumes in Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927), providing evidence that his designs were seen as futuristic from the start:

And in 1974, David Bowie appears as Ziggy Stardust wearing a costume designed by Kansai Yamamoto which closely resembles a costume from Das Triadisches

 
 

In both cases with Metropolis and Bowie's attire, the costumes are viewed as 'cutting edge,' despite being variations of Schlemmer's ballet costumes from the early 20th Century.

In 1977, Das Triadische was reproduced again, this time by German choreographer Gerhard Bohner. It looks like Bohner's version toured through the 80s because I found a funny review from 1985 in the New York Times on the piece, basically calling his version total shit.

Finally, in 2014 Das Triadische was performed yet again in Berlin, this time based on Gerhard Bohner's reconstruction. But since Bohner's work received such poor reviews, I'm not sure what resulted from the latest iteration.  

Being passed down in an almost folkloric way, Schlemmer's work has been preserved verbally and through imagery, leaving reperformances open to interpretation. While still relatively unknown, Das Triadisches has invariably influenced aesthetics, even at the end of the post-modern era. 


Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo, 2015


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