Theater archives

Pina Bausch’s Moon Rivers


If I speak of a full moon, you’ll understand me to mean a phase of our ancient satellite, along with its poetic, romantic, and vampirish implications. But in German, the two words join, and “vollmond” somehow becomes not just a phenomenon cloaked in mystique, but a state of being, a condition of the soul.

The late Pina Bausch was a master of conditions of the soul, and her 2006 Vollmond—given its New York premiere at BAM by a dozen members of Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch—embraces tidal forces and moments of madness. On opening night, the dancers were cheered for their uninhibited performing, as well as for their valor in the face of great loss.

It was an occasion to remember the company’s first BAM season in 1984 and the shock waves set off by Bausch’s Le Sacre du Printemps, Bluebeard, Café Müller, and 1980. Hours-long, intermissionless spectacles! A stage floor covered with earth or leaves! Witty, brutal encounters between men and women! Indecent amounts of repetition! And how little “real dance”! Friendly arguments, public debates, and shouting matches ensued. And when we emerged from that, most of us found we were in love.

Almost all the pieces Bausch made from 1989 on celebrated cities where the company performed. Vollmond was created in Wuppertal, a town that needed no homage beyond the fame that the company had brought it. However, like Palermo Palermo, Danzón, Der Fensterputzer, and others, Vollmond contains more solo dance passages than Bausch’s monumental earlier epics. And, like every Bausch work, it’s a collage of small “acts,” speeches, songs, ordeals, contests, and dances, which she assembled and mingled in provocatively surreal revues with free-wheeling themes, and set to musical selections that roam through classical, folk, and vintage pop.

So you don’t expect Vollmond to be wildly different from other Bausch creations. You’re an addict; you want the familiar Bausch experience with just enough beguiling surprises and deviations. You’d be disappointed if the women didn’t wear slinky, strappy, silk evening gowns. You’re primed for repetitions—often of abusive actions—that either escalate until you can hardly bear to watch them, or repeat almost mechanically until they’re drained of their original motivation. You’re ready to relish individual performers, to laugh when veteran Bausch performer Nazareth Panadero addresses us in her heavily accented, whiskey-and-cigarettes voice (“Fasten your seat belts. This is going to be a stooorrrmy night”), and to see almost every previous act reprised in a turbulent montage of a finale.

The moon’s tidal aspects flood Vollmond with water. Lots of it. Dark waves throb on Peter Pabst’s backdrop. Sheets of rain descend from above to gather in what turns out to be a channel that runs across the stage and through a passage in the enormous rock that sits at one side of the stage. Having clambered up the rock, Rainer Behr dips a bucket on a long cord down into the water and takes a shower. Fernando Suels Mendoza pours water from a bottle into the goblet that Tsai-Chin Yu smilingly holds up—pours until the water spills over and drenches her dress. Ditta Miranda Jasfi kneels by the channel, dipping and swinging her wet hair to make wheels of droplets. The women in their gowns, the men in their shirts and trousers, “swim” the length of the channel on their bellies. And in the cathartic, exhilarating ending, they all toss water from pails onto the boulder and into the air.

Vollmond is sweet-tempered. Its ordeals and games aren’t very harsh and don’t last long. Azusa Seyama times Michael Strecker’s ability to unhook her bra by reaching around her—eight seconds isn’t good enough. He persists until he impresses her with his one-second feat. The women sit on chairs, and the men run, vault up beside them, and kiss them, rushing about to kiss as many as possible. Mendoza gets tall, mournful Helena Pikon up on the rock and attempts to shoot paper cups off her head with a water pistol. Yu backs Mendoza offstage by advancing on tiptoe while giving him a long, jiggly kiss. One extravagant bout of repetition (by Jasfi) is a laughter attack.

Almost everyone has a solo, and these are fluid storms of movements (especially passionate in the case of Behr, Mendoza, and the great Dominique Mercy—now one of the company’s directors). The dancers rush about, their bodies tumbled by invisible currents, their arms lashing. And all of them (that includes Julie Anne Stanzak, Jorge Puerta Armenta, and Pablo Aran Gimeno) are marvelous.

At one point, Panadero asks for a chair and invites an invisible person to use it. She tells us that even a ghost has to sit down sometimes. I don’t think Pina’s ghost is sitting. Her upstanding spirit will be with the company over its next two years of performances. And, with luck, beyond.