Theater archives

From Europe: The Familiar and the New


Once, I thought I had a key to the differences between post-’60s modern dance in America and work coming out of Europe or Canada: white underpants. The male visitors strode around in briefs. Women made heedless by angst dragged up their dresses. Under happier circumstances, they frisked like rabbits, showing off their little white butts. In dances that attempted above all to create an image of endangered communitas onstage, the panties were an affirmation of vulnerability.

Lingerie is still important to Pina Bausch. In one of her 1995 Danzón‘s more elaborate games, a woman in a dress bends over, holding the hands of a woman in bra and panties. Two men slide the dress off one woman and onto the other. In true Bauschian fashion, this happens over and over, with many pairs, everyone shrieking gleefully. What disguise does clothing offer when it is so interchangeable?

Bausch’s greatest and most terrifying works are unified by place and ambience. Bluebeard takes place in an empty and glacial château, Kontakthof in a shabby town hall auditorium. Since all are structured as bizarre and witty vaudeville turns on the theme of human relations, I tend to remember favorite “acts” from some without always recalling which work they appeared in. Danzón, unusually short (an hour and 45 minutes) and sparsely populated (12 performers), shifts the scene via scrims and Peter Pabst’s slides: a vast glass arena, a desert, a forest through which naked whooping Adams chase laughing Eves. I can’t pinpoint a theme-unless it’s innocence versus experience-and the mood is, for Bausch, quite benign. As befits the title, there are quite a few dance solos, usually to soft Latin songs.

Bausch builds our expectations with brilliant theatricality. What mad deed will come to interrupt the one we’re watching? When will heroic veteran performer Jan Minarik crawl on again in an outsized diaper, giving a beautifully observed rendition of an eight-month-old? Can superb gravel-voiced Mechthild Grossmann top the scene that begins with her slurping along the arm of Andrey Berezine (whose big toes, poking out of red high heels, dance to the music) and ends as she scrambles about, licking the floor and growling exasperatedly, “I do everything here”?

Bausch’s strategies are familiar. You attend her performances to get your Bauschfix in a new mixture. In Danzón, Aida Vainieri is the out-of-it person; her handbag slips off her arm no matter how many times it’s replaced. Women flirt knowingly with us, this time from bathtubs. A woman (here the charming Raphaëlle Delaunay) talks to the audience. There’s drag: Dominique Mercy is brought up from the front row, beguiling as a prim little lady in a hat who rather enjoys the spotlight. Mercy also offers his demented dancing and entrancingly numb “little man” persona. There’s mess: Grossmann shovels dirt onto Julie Anne Stanzik as she crawls along. People (mostly Daphnis Kokkinos) tell stories and jokes-as if at summer camp after lights-out. Familiar too is the excellence of the performers, including Ruth Amarante, Cristiana Morganti, and Fernando Suels.

The major difference between Danzón and other Bausch works is that she performs in it. Clothed in black, standing behind a scrim, she moves her arms and upper body slowly, sensitively, as if she’s dancing in a dream. Above her, huge fish, like her thoughts, peacefully swim-red ones with feathery tails, soulfully ugly bottom feeders.

**Bausch has been a strong influence, but the New Europe ’99 series reveals no slavish followers. A powerful and touching male bonding rite, The Fall (the fourth collaboration by Dutch dancer-choreographer Truus Bronkhorst and actor-director Marien Jongewaard) deals less with societal turbulence than with elemental emotions and abstracted investigations of masculinity. Marc van Loon dances alone to a Hindemith violin sonata; in his almost impassive display of straight-armed gestures and turns in place, his legs are hobbled by a long, stretchy, black lace tube of a dress. In an arena flanked by three benches and three barres, three mirrors reflect his ambiguous beauty.

Eight men (van Loon, Jean Louis Barning, Ian Butler, Andreas Fratzl, Percy Kruythoff,
Vladimir Melnikov, Jakob Nissen, and Pascal
Rekoert) never leave. When not plunging into dancing, they slump on benches, curl up on the floor, hang over the barres. They “fall” into
debauchery, into dancing, into savagery, into oneanother’s arms. Wielding beer cans, they roister on the floor, yelping excitedly while Butler and Melnikov sink into Spanishy lunges to John Coltrane’s Olé. Drunk, they attempt to perfect an ordeal of a phrase. They also pair up to assist-to cradle-one another; but finally their buoyant waltzing to the last plaint of Mahler’s great Das Liedvon der Erde gives way to caveman stuff that’s Bauschian in its repetitiveness. Men chase their partners, grab them by the hair, wrestle them into submission. The howling is horrific.

These Iron Johns are all wonderful. And by the end, glossy with sweat, they’ve won the audience to what seems less an examination of gender than a zestful comment on humanity.

**José Montalvo’s Paradis dispenses with narrative and presents a whimsical media carnival. Dancers frolic with their own images-often to earsplitting Vivaldi. Children and animals seem to mingle with the performers, and hip-hop lies down with ballet. The piece poses to a delighted audience gentle questions about illusion and reality, similarity and difference.

The dancers appear and disappear between a split curtain of white panels. Projected onto this is a virtual copy of the curtain. From its cracks, an elephant materializes to lumber across the stage; an elderly woman leads a string of kindergartners out one opening and in another. With the projected feet seeming to touch the actual floor, Montalvo creates an astonishing frieze. Action shot on a white floor can show dancers climbing the walls. Muscular Bobo Pani seems to hang by his teeth from a woman’s skirt.

The dancing melds styles. Associate choreographer Dominique Hervieu’s solo has the dynamics of popping. The charming Merlin Nyakam from Cameroon woos aloof Joelle Iffrig with an exuberant mating display of foot-
stamping, chanting, and body-slapping. When she finally joins him, he chases her offstage, and his taped image lugs her away. Mélanie Lomoff’s on pointe; Walid Boumhani does some sensational electric boogying; Laurent Chedri pirouettes on his head; voluptuous Chantal Loïal slyly turns her back and her buttocks talk to us.

Paradise, then, is an amiable circus without cages or nets. Dance forms lie down together, and the goat frolics past the tiger. No underpants in sight.