Throbbing with the life of the Eternal City: Pina Bausch’s Viktor

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch at Sadler’s Wells, London
February 8, 2018

Maggie Foyer

Rome has long been a source of inspiration for film makers so why not dance theatre? Pina Bausch has her own take on the Eternal City and where better to start than the catacombs. Viktor may start with corpses laid out for a burial cum wedding, but it throbs with life and boasts a cast that captures the vigour, corruption and eccentricity of the metropolis.

Viktor, (1986) is the first of her ten pieces based on world cities. Rather than the essence of Rome, it is a holiday snapshot where the woman treated as a human fountain, continually tanked up then spewing water, is a homage to Trevi (thankfully no-one was tossing coins into her). This cavalier attitude to people is used extensively in Viktor as bodies are heaved around like shop dummies in a manner that is callous, but not particularly sadistic. It arouses a curious mix of feelings: concern, anger, guilt and ultimately reflexions on how we treat one another.

This is the magic of Pina Bausch and her dancers. They create dozens of vignettes of human foibles, bizarre and seemingly unrelated, then suddenly the dots align and in a blinding moment you get the picture. Or sometimes you don’t and sit there provoked by the interminable repetition.

Pina Bausch's ViktorPhoto Meyer Originals
Pina Bausch’s Viktor
Photo Meyer Originals

Modern attitudes to gender are oddly skewed. An assertive, if armless, woman makes a bold statement in a red dress standing unabashed, confronting the audience for a very long time then allowing her gentleman escort to place a coat over her shoulders and lead her off. Men apply makeup, women wear high heels and the big no-nos of our age, furs and cigarettes, are enthusiastically enjoyed. None behave quite as expected. Leading the strong, glamorous women is newcomer, Breanna O’Mara: wild and wonderful as she thrashes her mane of red hair, a truly liberated spirit.

Bausch never underestimates the potency of popular music whether it is dance hall music accompanying the jolly moments of social dance or the sheer delight of the women in gorgeous evening dresses swinging above the stage to Fred Astaire singing, ‘Just the way you look tonight’. The mix works well, but it would do no harm to edit down the second, very long, act.

Peter Pabst’s set is extraordinary, finding the perfect substance to match the concept. The stage, instead of a platform, is now at the bottom of a chasm around 17 metres deep, flanked by brown earth. A man shovels earth into the pit and the thud of falling earth chimes, like a potent memento mori, throughout the performance.

It is now nearly ten years since Bausch’s death and the company, still with a number of dancers who worked with her, is looking as strong as ever. Adolphe Binder who has, very successfully, directed Göteborgs Operans Danskompani since 2011, takes the helm this season. She aims to keep the company rep alive while introducing guest choreographers, Dimitris Papaioannou and Alan Lucien Øyen, to present full-length premieres heralding a new wave of creativity in the spirit of Pina.