Pina Bausch Café Müller (1978) and The Rite of Spring (1975)

Pina along with Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham and others laid the ground- work for many artists who followed. This isn’t to say their work is easy, or as potent as it was when it was first made, however they paved the road that many artists travel now.


A topic of discussion among my colleagues and I has been about theory and its practical application in theatre and dance. The audience shouldn’t have to know your theory to be able to understand or get something out of the work. As I watched Pina’s company perform the other night I realized that we have retreated from the thinking audience. Work should challenge the viewer, make them think, question and debate what they have seen. Most mainstream work long ago stopped asking larger questions of their audiences and choosing instead simply to entertain. This is part of the function but not the only one. A balanced season or performance will catch you out, make you consider something you hadn’t thought to question.


If, however, you are driven by theory and think your audience should know this theory to get everything they need to out of your work, you will play to empty houses. The early artist of contemporary/modern movement didn’t always work with theory but with a visceral idea that others later built a theory around.


So as I sat in the audience for the New Zealand Festival’s big event, I was surrounded by people of a certain age (ticket prices were quite high). They came to see art with a capital A. So Pina has become mainstream. Something that would have seemed impossible when she was first starting out. Müller left them somewhat bewildered, although during the interval people had questions “what did it mean?” was one and “what did you think?” was the other.


The work itself uses the Café her parents ran when she was growing up as a jumping off place. It is not an easy work to experience. Watching it however, I saw the roots of other works by other artists. Pina opened a door for them, took the big risk and in so doing shaped the form of things to come. Bowie and Almodóvar both credit her as a large influence on certain works of their own. A segment of Müller appears in “Talk to Her” Almodóvar’s film with similar themes as that Pina addresses in her work.


Rites of Spring

There are many iterations of this work by many choreographers, each with their own take on what Stravinsky was trying to provoke or illustrate with his score. As a dancer I have had the opportunity to dance the original choreography by Nijinsky. It was one of the most difficult pieces of music I have ever moved to. Of the many versions I have seen Pina’s is the pinnacle. There is a sense of danger in the work that I seldom experience in dance any more. The movement echoes the score as it drives to the ending, leaving the one woman who has been chosen to move in a solo that at times cannot match the score. Will they kill her? Eat her? Rape her? All of the above? You really don’t know, and just as you are about to find out the work is over.

This work has more structure and more recognizable dance movement then much of her other work, and was received with loud cheers and applause. Justly so, it is a break-neck work that never really stops to take a breath.


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