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February 10, 2014 5:54 pm
The year 1980 was an annus horribilis for Pina Bausch, with the death of her companion and artistic collaborator Rolf Borzik. Her artistic response to that great loss was 1980, created for Tanztheater Wuppertal. It is suffused with a sense of grief and the inexorable passing of time, but not all is Teutonic gloom over the course of its three and a half hours; there are also many moments of levity and genuine humour. Now the company, which is marking its 40th anniversary, has brought the work to London.
How you react to 1980 (and indeed to Bausch’s work in general) will be determined by how you feel about the eloquence of the commonplace, the profoundness of the mundane. Everyday actions and events were for her a springboard to an affirmation of life itself, here all the more poignant given that this work is born out of death. The stage is covered in living grass and is the setting for a fête champêtre of unrelated episodes acted out to a hotchpotch of music ranging from Judy Garland to German lullabies. As the 20-strong cast go about their scattergun business – enacting variations on childhood games, TV show etiquette and daily rituals, from conjuring tricks to pouring tea – the effect is cumulative.
And then there are the words. In what became a recurring feature of her work, Bausch has her performers continually talk and question, at times in utterances of surprising weight, not least when each reveals what he or she fears most. The visual aesthetic is impressive – this was Peter Pabst’s first of many collaborations with Bausch – and the performers are elegantly clad in 1950s fashion by Marion Cito.
The piece is classic Bausch, a totem for Tanztheater that reveals the secrets of the form’s continuing success. She turns the tables on the audience, allowing it to engage with the content on its own terms: absurd humour, sexual flirtation, children’s games, social interaction – all trigger thoughts and memories in us. Herein lay her talent: the breadth of invention offers an encyclopaedia of visual references from which we create our own understanding. It is performed with unblinking belief by the company, whose range of ages, nationalities and physical types further underlines this universality – in at least one of them we can see ourselves.
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