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Dancing through the dark: Pina Bausch finds a ray of light.

One day the sun entangled himself in a tree, and the earth plunged into darkness. A little squirrel lost its tail, had its fur burnt off and went blind, but gnawed at the tree's branches until the heavenly globe could rise again. As a reward, the sun changed the naked creature, who had always wanted to fly, into the first bat.


A would-be lover lowers himself on top of his partner until another man pulls her away from between his legs. A woman has her hair brushed with a broom. Two men embrace until it hurts. A man in a tutu walks around with a watering can; another reads a story about a faithful squirrel who becomes a bat. Two women draw hearts on a blackboard. Dancers chase each other with office chairs; others prefer skate boards. It's all in a day's work in Pina Bausch's 2002 Fur die Kinder yon gestern, heute und morgen (For the Children of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow), which receives its American premiere on November 16 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival.

For over thirty years, Bausch has peered into the darkness of the human heart, searching for love and tenderness and finding precious little. The world she put on stage has been full of fractured relationships, cracked identities, and soul-numbing loneliness. But she never gave up looking. Repetition, so integral to her work, reminds us of our inability to break the shackles of our imprisoned spirits, but, conversely, also of the Sisyphusian task of trying to do it again and again. While Bausch saw dignity, even humor in this persistence, we didn't laugh. It was too painful.

But since the mid-'90s, Bausch's tonal palette has changed. Her voice is less strident; her edges are rounder; her heart seems lighter, and some of her vignettes are devilishly funny. Maybe traveling the world, Bausch's version of the Grand Tour, has softened her perspective. In 1996 she created her first site-specific work outside Europe. In Nut Du (Only You), Bausch's look at the American West, she seemed more bemused than troubled at the superficiality and self-infatuation she saw in the New World. A year later Der Fensterputzer (The Window Washer), inspired by the hectic but orderly life in Hong Kong, was full of sudden delights. Then came Masurca Fogo, Bausch's love affair with life, love, and lust as observed in Portugal and its Cape Verde culture. The scene where the dancers build a little tropical hut and dance a joyous rumba inside it is still talked about. Masurca was followed by Agua, her perspective on Brazil; it overflows with a similar kind of joie de vivre. Lee Yanor's film, Coffee with Pina, shows Agua's battle of the sexes as kissing competitions, and men and women splashing each other with water bottles like kids on the beach.

So has Bausch mellowed? Is it possible to grow from Cafe Muller's loneliness to the fragile but real community of Masurca Fogo, as film director Pedro Almodovar, in his wondrous film Talk to Her, seems to imply? Almodovar has said he was struck by Masurca's "vitality and optimism, its bucolic air, and those unexpected images of painful beauty which made me cry from pure pleasure."

Recently Lutz Forster, a company member and guest artist since 1975, addressed the question about whether Bausch has become more hopeful about our capacity to create meaningful relationships. Speaking from Japan, where he was on tour with the company's newest work, Ten-Chi, he said he wasn't sure. "My feeling is not that she is more hopeful, but that she is convinced that what we need is hope. We need to see that there is something else besides what's going on in the world.

"I remember when we started Fur die Kinder--it was the first production after 9/11--she said to me, 'How can we do a piece today? What can we do?'"

Fur die Kinder has an intergenerational cast of fourteen dancers, a music collage by Matthias Burkert and Andreas Eisenschneider, and set design by longtime collaborator Peter Pabst. In a May interview, Bausch explained her choice of the topic. "Children are a symbol of hope; they are our origin, and their fragility is ours. That's why it is important that we talk about them."

Bausch's interest in childhood, of course, is not new. Her perspective on it as a complex mix of innocence and misery wends its way through her work like an underground stream. Childhood interests her primarily for the residue it leaves in the adult. Her dancers often move, act and talk as if unaware of consequences, much the way children do.

With this newest work, Bausch hopes to throw another beam of light into an essentially chaotic world. Sounding almost Freudian, she said of the process: "We were looking at things that we had forgotten and thanks to which sometimes we can better understand the world that surrounds us."

As always, in Children Bausch worked, as she calls it, "from the inside out." She prepares a series of questions to which her dancers try to find answers--in actions, dance, language, images. They work alone or together until they are ready to show the results. Bausch then edits, layers, and combines the material into the incidents that pepper her landscape.

Cristiana Morganti, an ensemble member since 1993, describes the process as one of "mutual discovery," open and wide-ranging. Suggestions might be gestures which call up a mood; a movement which takes lots of space; a way to protect yourself from the rain; to show something which reflects longing; make visible a high violin sound. "As of late," Morganti observed, "she likes us to speak less and do more in actions and movement." For Morganti, developing a new piece is an adventure, one in which "we trust her, and she trusts us."

While the pieces from the late '90s are less abrasive, they also incorporate more pure dancing. A group of spectacularly trained movers from every continent--except Antarctica--has joined, and in part replaced, the older generation of actor/dancers. Wuppertal Tanztheater today is an intriguing mix that allows for dance and theater to hold each other up more evenly. The gesture-derived choreography of earlier days, explained Forster, "was always developed by Pina. These days, she often lets dancers develop their own material, though she, of course, has the last word."

Is there a connection between Bausch's increased use of dance and what might be called her more hopeful prospect about the relationships we can have with each other? Forster demurred, pointing out that as an artist, Bausch wants, first of all, to evolve. But even if she were more hopeful, "it can be dangerous to talk about hope, or something like that on stage, I think that dance can do this more easily."

Longtime dancers Dominique Mercy and his wife Malou Airaudo left the company twice in order to return to sunny Marseille. Both times, they changed their mind. You can't live in Wuppertal, they have said. But you can't live without Pina either. Some artists carry the sun in their heart.

Rita Felciano is dance critic for the San Francisco Bay Guardian and Bay Area correspondent for DanceView Magazine.
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Author:Felciano, Rita
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Cover Story
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Nov 1, 2004
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