Pina Bausch died and I didn’t find out till a week later.
Dancer: Julie Anne Stanzak. Bhne von Peter Pabst UA Wuppertal 1982
No creator has ever had the impact Bausch had on me. Ever.
I first saw her stuff on Channel 4 in the late Eighties when her piece entitled ‘1980’ was aired late at night. It went on for about four hours and featured bizarre performances by these incredibly fascinating dancers who moved beautifully and magically and then with ugly oddness. There was no story line, no plot. But I was mesmerized.
Almost 20 years later, I finally got to see her dancers live in London. ‘Masurca Fogo‘ was a later piece. Jammed with beautiful dancing and the balmy warmth of Cape Verde where Bausch got her inspiration for the piece. So many of her later works came from her travels.
I was terrified that she wouldn’t live up to my remembered fascination – but she exceeded it a hundred fold.
Bausch’s sets were always works of art. Her designer, Ralf Borzik would create one single ‘fact’ that created a space for everything in the show to occur. There was a stage covered in water. Another had mud on the floor. Or leaves.There was one where petals fell constantly. Another featured a massive breeze-block wall which collapsed and littered the stage with debris. ‘Masurca Fogo’ was a massive rocky beach. And the whole piece was suffused with the warmth of sunshine and love.
There are too many heart-stopping Bausch moments to recount. But the two moments of MF that stayed with me for months afterwards were the favela beach hut the company seemed to build, dance inside of, and then dismantle in a matter of minutes. And then at the close of the show the seemingly endless, infinite beauty of the dancers curling up into pairs on the sand while KD Lang sang and the theatre was filled with massive coloured projections of flowers opening one after another.
Or then there was the amazing ‘Palermo Palermo’ and ‘Nelken’ which came to London a couple of years later. Or her ‘Rite of Spring’.
The thing about Bausch was that she managed to speak directly to the emotional bit of your brain and utterly miss the intellectual part. The imagery – often bizarre and crude, often staggeringly beautiful – combine in powerful ways that I never understood. But without fail I would find myself crying big snotty tears in the middle of one of her pieces. Some image would start it.
There’s a moment in Palermo Palermo where red sand falls like rain from the sky and covers the stage. For whatever reason this made me wretched with tears.
She was one of the greatest creators in the world – and I am devestated that she’s gone. I never went to Wuppertal but I hope that we get to see all the pieces again in an endless stream of brilliance. It would be too much to expect Channel 4 to air any of those early shows again – but I pray that someone somewhere does a massive retrospective of her work and as many people get to experience her company before it disbands and her wonderful work goes the way of red sand.