February 17, 2013 5:26 pm

Two Cigarettes in the Dark – Sadler’s Wells, London

Tanztheater Wuppertal’s promise of a piece that looked “at the monotony of life” proved all too accurate

I think that the word Tanztheater merits the attentions of the Trade Descriptions Act. With the return to Rosebery Avenue of the Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal last week in Two Cigarettes in the Dark – and we know how bad smoking is for you, though perhaps not as deleterious as the Bausch repertory – we are faced with a staging whose publicity declared that it looked “at the monotony of life”.

For once puffery does not lie. The “dance” in Two Cigarettes would fit on the head of a pin: at its most vivacious it proposes four men and four women shuffling interminably over the stage on their haunches while a reverberant recording of Ravel’s La Valse blasts at us in its entirety. The “theatre” is, of course, the usual and deadly Bauschian mixture of the inconsequent: why the life-size model of a cow pushed across the stage? Wherefore the sudden irruption by a black dog? Was that man kneading dough part of the action? Must we be told about sexual congress with angels? And the grinding repetitions, and the women screaming, and the gruesome dresses. And the omnipresent Dominique Mercy emptying his pockets on to the stage. And Mechthild Grossmann giving so generously of her whiskey-baritone jokiness. And music played – albeit faintly – as wall-paper? (Beethoven quartets and a sublime Hugo Wolf song used to accompany idiot behaviour.)

The Bausch public accepts the brutal approximations to dance, the fudged dramatics, the lack of tension and monumental self-indulgences of a theatre where monotony is a virtue and ineptitude is sacred. They even cheer at this Barmecide feast. But this is the theatre of depression, denying every virtue of the human spirit – selfless generosity, loving care, those unemphatic dignities of behaviour that we find around us. Bausch’s stagings are monotonously nay-saying, and I would consign their flimsy pretensions to drama – the repetitious physicalities, the abuse of music, the shouting and screaming and witless dressing-up, the rampant agonisings – to some auditorium where no-one cares about dance or theatre.


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