Tuesday, 8 February 2022

REVIEW: Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch Kontakthof at Sadler's Wells

Undoubtedly an icon in the world of dance theatre since the 1970s, Tanztheter Wuppertal Pina Bausch has played a large role in changing the landscape of modern dance with a ripple effect that can be felt through contemporary dance and theatre today. The late, Pina Bausch, a maverick of the arts, through her choreography has the ability to transcend movement into an expression of the human condition which is raw and pure. The latest remounting of the pivotal piece Kontakthof by the company at Sadler’s Wells this February is an important reminder of how, truly great theatre, can transcend time and context. 

Kontakthof was originally premiered in 1978 at Operahouse Wuppertal and has remained, for many, to be one of the most important pieces in Bausch’s canon of work dealing with themes of desire for contact the need to be seen, appreciation and equality. Provoked by the pandemic, social issues such as sexism, racism and cultural appropriation, have also been largely explored by the company for this latest version. Moving forward, you can’t help to think there are themes of gender too yet to be tapped into.

Dressed in suits and satin ball gowns designed by Rolf Borzik (a collaborator of Bausch’s until he died in 1980) over 20 performers from around the world, each with different physiology’s and ages make up the ensemble of dancers. There is a collective solitude as the large group fumble and parade themselves across the vast stage and encounter misguided connections. 

Bausch always placed the importance of costume and set as equal to the choreography in many ways. They come together, or not at all. The same can be said for the sound design. In this instance, it consists of a selection of music from the ’20s and ’30s. These design elements promote a feeling of nostalgia, romance and desire in contrast with moments of perversion, violence and absurdity of the physicality. There is a lightness and heaviness in any given scene. 

Having people on stage who represent a larger section of the population than what is commonly seen in dance, offers a sort of permission for the audience. Permission for everyone to move and express corporally and to see themselves up there. Moments of synchronicity are also made all the more poignant by this nuance of difference. Movement is a primal urge no matter how you dress it or promote it.

The cast overall can not be faulted. Unapologetic, witty with complete attention to detail, there is no doubt that the spirit of Bausch dances with and through them on stage. In particular, it is impossible to take your eyes off of Canadian dancer Emma Barrowman who exudes power, sexuality and comedy and Russian Ekaterina Shushakova takes command with feminine power. That is not to say, however, that the rest of the ensemble don’t individually, also, make their mark.

While there are still enough people around who physically worked with Pina Bausch while she was alive who can pass on their first-hand experience of the work to new generations of company members, all dancers and performers alike should witness a performance by Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch while they can. A work like Kontakthof is a gift to the world of dance.

Review by Stephanie Osztreicher

Rating: ★★★★★

Seat: Stalls F 27

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