Vollmond (Full Moon)
Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch
Brooklyn Academy of Music
Brooklyn, New Yok
September 29, 2010
Fall in New York - in dance and everything else - gets into gear only after the Jewish Holidays and the end of September 2010 kicked things off with a bang. At one moment New York City Ballet was playing Lincoln Center; Fall for Dance at City Center; and downtown, Batsheva Dance Company was at the Joyce at the same time that in Brooklyn (further downtown, extreme or existential downtown) Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch opened on the main stage at BAM. The last two shows are well worth a note.
In Bausch's Vollmond (translates Full Moon) an eight foot square boulder straight out of Isamu Noguchi sat a the front of the stage and water was everywhere. The dancers wallowed in and crawled through a small river that ran across the stage (and under the rock)and scooped up, and tossed the water at Saturnalian moments; and meanwhile drenching rains fell periodically with a sense of epiphany. Both the sound of the rain and the way it caught the light were beautiful. Punctuating the water park effects were dance solos, small soliloquies by the dancers or vignettes. Dramatically - and given the look and costumes of the dancers - it was as if Fassbinder movie had been hit by a monsoon.
At her best, Bausch uses an overarching stage conception to impart allegorical meaning to her action on stage. In her 1991 work Palermo, Palermo, for example - made soon after the fall of the Berlin wall and the reunification of Germany - dancers picking their way through a concrete block wall that had tumbled toward the audience could not help evoking both the rubble of post-war Germany in 1945 and the nation's existential crisis of that contemporary moment. It superimposed these images, so to speak. Vollmond's meaning was more diffuse, humorous, private and obscure; lighter and more playful. Made towards the end of Bausch's life and her first work performed here since her unexpected death last year, its humor and exuberance resonated more as an enigmatic moment of Zen imagery - one of those nearly nonsensical statements that Zen poses as serious - than as Wagnerian theater. Given the stock use of the image of the moon reflected in water in Zen poetry, I even wondered whether Vollmond may not have intended this association?
Batsheva's Project 5
Ohud Naharin - the alter ego of Batsheva - kept things short at his Joyce show. With a running time of just over and hour and four internal parts that were alternately very bad and very good (in that order), the brevity of each part amounted nearly to a hit and run guerilla tactic for artistic self preservation. The bad parts couldn't sink the whole while the stronger parts left a good impression. Is there some kind of Aristotelian stage law at work here? I suppose it depends on the relative strength, properties and offensiveness of the competing parts.
Here the deadweight elements were two cultural commentary pieces set to declamatory verse or slogans. In the first, five dancers arranged themselves in dynamic group poses while a voice in English recited things like: "Ignore all possibilities, the damnation of Faust . . ." etc. As things went along the group periodically changed its pose while the monologue repeated, but each time another phrase or thought was added. At time mildly funny, it ended with "Wipe your ass real good because it's impolite to let people know you've been to the bathroom." (My paraphase). The intellectual content was lightweight; the use of the material pointless; and if you are going to allude to Goethe, please make it better than this. In the other deadweight section, three women stood fetchingly behind 1930's radio era microphones and ranted in Hebrew. Both of the pieces reminded me of the facile conceptual art you often see in Chelsea art galleries, where quotations from various texts make little point but the act of quoting passes for profound.
The strong elements of the show were a Bolero for two dancers (to Ravel's familiar score) in the middle of the program and a symbolist vignette called "Black Milk" that ended it. In the Bolero two women (alternating casts, one all male, the other female, danced the ten day run and I saw the women) began in relaxed contr'aposto posed against each other, one swinging her arm limply to the melody, the other swaying her body to the orchestral rhythm. As the melody repeated, and orchestral forces were added with each repeat, the two dancers rearranged their positioning vis-a-vis each other every time the score rolled over. The women were visually interesting, their changing poses consistently inventive, and the overall effect was brilliant. Ratmansky's Bolero (danced here last year) attempted something similar but, because his dance was extremely repetitive, ended up exposing visually the score's monotony - something always implicit in the composition but unrealized by the hearer because of the music's joy. Naharin succeeded much better with this music: his blocking and choreography were non-repetitive and very free, and setting the dancers to cross the stage on a diagonal made each addition of orchestral force an act of progression.
Taking a completely different stylistic tack, "Black Milk" at the close of the show deployed four women in a brief surrealist drama. Dressed virginally in white, with bare arms and shoulders, they solemnly formed a line on their knees downstage, as if for a ritual, but then in a startling moment slowly smeared themselves with grey mud from a bucket that they passed down their line. One had a sense of purity being defiled and for me the intellectual associations were of original sin, the dirt of incarnation, the wages of experience, etc. As in any good symbolic work, the image was both visceral and strongly evocative; and it was here above all that I wish I had seen the all male cast because, by eliminating the associations of virginal purity and femininity, they must surely have provoked a very different set of thoughts.
Photographs: of Vollmond by Julieta Cervantes courtesy of Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch; of
Project 5 by Gadi Dagon courtesy of Batsheva Dance Company.