Skip To Content
Photo by Alexandra Campeau (provided by NAC).

Dance Review: Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch wows audience on opening night

By Colin Noden on September 29, 2017


Here’s what happened on the first night. The theatre was packed to the rafters. A standing ovation, and I counted three curtain calls with the 36 dancers deserving every second. Oh, and a big round of applause was given to the stage crew after filling the stage with a farmyard’s worth of dirt during intermission.

I know, I’m stalling from telling you about what happened on stage.

It was emotional. And thought provoking. I’m still emotional, and understand that telling you about my state is not going to incur any feeling in you. That is the artists’ job. And that is why you must go see this dance performance.

Photo by Lahola (provided by NAC).

Well, “must” is a strong word. Let’s just say that if you are the type who is open to having an emotion unleashed from your subconscious, and find your fingers tightening in response until released through applause; then you should buy and ticket and go. If you’re looking for pretty poses and a straight forward story, then perhaps not.

I discovered a strange thing during intermission. People around me were sharing different story lines they thought they had just watched in Café Müller. They shared the same emotion, but were watching different interpretations.

My interpretation? Have you ever heard a couple describe their coming together as fate? Oh, those hard-working fates, clearing the path for the inevitable. The meeting. That moment in time lovers hold captured in the amber of memory. Or do they? The dream relationship? Seemingly doomed to devolve into soulless routine. Is that it? Are we trapped in this destination fate has designed?  Perhaps not.

Photo by Lahola (provided by NAC).

Salvation comes by taking our destiny into our own hands. To become conscious and determine our own course in life. Fate then follows us.

Pina spoke of having memories of the café her father worked in as inspiration. Perhaps she watched scenarios played out in the lives of the customers and wanted to help us find success in love. I like my fated lover interpretation, but I’m very happy to be wrong. Feel free to tell me yours.

Oh, and in a lucky stroke of fate, just after I had explained my version of the dance, the lady beside us gave me her Invictus Games wrist band when I admired it. The motto on it says, “I am the master of my fate.” I love synchronicity.

Photo by Alexandra Campeau (provided by NAC).

Fate took a darker turn in the second performance.

The treatment of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring is shocking. It’s as if the infamy of the music has been reborn. The original premiere of the music in 1913 caused fights to break out in the concert hall. I would argue that Nicholas Roerich, who suggested the ballet story to Stravinski, is responsible for its enduring power.

At the opening in Paris on May 29, 1913, one of the audience described the scene: “Nothing that has ever been written about the battle of Le Sacre du Printemps has given a faint idea of what actually took place. The theater seemed to be shaken by an earthquake. It shuddered. People shouted insults, howled and whistled, drowning out the music. There was slapping and even punching… the ballet was astoundingly beautiful.”

Photo by Alexandra Campeau (provided by NAC).

This new presentation of Pina’s choreography, combined with the music, didn’t cause fights but it packed a punch.  A young girl is chosen to dance herself to death as the tribe sacrifices her to propitiate the gods of spring.

I’m assuming Artistic Director Adolphe Binder is behind the powerful emotions displayed by the bodies, and faces of the dancers. Pina’s legacy is to go deep and challenge the limits of the dancers. The dancers managed to express every emotion you would expect a small community would feel when they forced one of their own to kill herself. Every dancer expressed themselves as an individual, even while moving in a group pattern. It was like method acting in dance.

Every review I’ve read on this production uses the word “raw”. I’ve tried not to use it because I think it misdirects the experience unless qualified.

The rawness in The Rite of Spring is what the audience feels happening to themselves, not the technique on the stage. This is where I lost it. I told you at the beginning of this review it is impossible for me to invoke the emotions I felt. All I can do is try to explain to you how and why I felt them. Sometimes art makes you think. It can make you feel many things. And sometimes it can shake you up. Change your perspective. Help you see life in a new way.

I think that happened to a lot of people on opening night.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch are performing Café Müller and the The Rite of Spring at NAC Southam Hall (1 Elgin St) from September 28–30. Tickets cost $53–100 online. Student tickets are half-price and $15 Live Rush tickets are available for patrons ages 13–29.