Giannandrea Poesio

New world order

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World Cities 2012: Bamboo Blues; Der Fensterputzer

Sadler's Wells, Barbican, Until 9 July

When World Cities 2012 — better known as the current Pina Bausch season — was first presented, questions were raised about the apparently random order of the various pieces. Yet a chronologically structured retrospective would have deprived the event of the theatrically stimulating game of juxtapositions that the reordered version possesses. As with her non city-specific works, Bausch’s city-specific creations can be grouped in two categories: the more and the less danced pieces. The pendulum swung dramatically throughout the four decades in which Bausch worked, though not frequently. So a chronologically structured retrospective would have suffered from clumps of similarly formulated compositions.

A vibrant chiaroscuro is key to the success of the current season. Last week, the vivid contrast between Der Fensterputzer (The Window Cleaner) and Bamboo Blues revealed Bausch’s multifaceted creativity. Premièred in 2007, the latter belongs to her last creative chapter, which was characterised by a radical move away from the sombre Expressionist narrative modes of early Tanztheater works. As such, this lavish and at times carefree tribute to Kolkata is a fluid dance piece, constructed on a clever and at times subtly humorous game of variations on visual and choreographic themes.

Bausch’s trademark features pop up here and there. There are spoken moments, comic tableaux, vitriolic satirical explorations of gender issues, unsettling visual metaphors and interactions with the public. Yet all of these are carefully weaved into a dance continuum, and never stand out as isolated episodes, as they do in many other of Bausch’s works. Through this seamless choreographic fluidity, which interacts with Peter Pabst’s gauze-floating sets, opalescent images of Indian culture are evoked on stage, in line with that dream-like quality Bausch wanted to bestow on to the whole piece. Unlike earlier Tanztheater works, this tribute to Kolkata is not a bitter or angst-dominated reflection on specific aspects of the city’s everyday life, but a fantasy on the same, scented with a delicate whiff of serene nostalgia.

As such it is strikingly different from Der Fensterputzer (1997), in which Bausch’s exploration of Expressionism seems to have reached both its zenith and nadir. Dominated by a theatrically impressive semi-moving mountain of red blossoms, the work follows on from and develops the formulae seen earlier on in Viktor (1986). The notion of the city that is being celebrated — Hong Kong — is rarefied in the extreme and intentionally drowned in a kaleidoscope of apparently disconnected theatrical episodes. The use of metaphors here is bold and provocative. Viewers often react with laughter, but there is little to laugh at, once the gravitas of each action and its possible meaning is taken into account. The mountain of flowers, with which the performers interact more or less constantly, is both beautiful and dangerous: it allows people to glide, even ski on it, but it also engulfs and challenges them with its unstable surface and its daunting dimensions.

Comic situations punctuate the whole, in typical Bauschian fashion, but they only heighten the drama, for in the end they highlight the misery of the human condition, as in the case of the hyper-servile guy who runs all over the place to satisfy the drinking and eating whims of several viewers. Even the dancing, in the form of those iconic solos immortalised by Wim Wenders, is often grotesquely quirky, and leaves bitterness in the mouth after the initial laughter. Not everybody’s cup of tea, maybe, but still a unique example of theatre-making.