Pina Bausch lounge or the limits of heritage in live dance: Agua at BAM

No more Grotowski : one afternoon at La Mama with Richard Schechner and Thomas Richards
March 9, 2023
Light: Light
August 25, 2023

Tanztheater Wuppertal "Água" A piece by Pina Bausch BAM Howard Gilman Opera House Brooklyn, N.Y. March 2, 2023 Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes

The new version of Agua by Pina Bausch, one of the iconic pieces of an incomparable dance archive premiered in US at Brooklyn Academy of Music this March. Unfortunately, it lacks the well-known vitality of the late choreographer. The three-hour long show including many excellent solos from young members of the team doesn’t articulate well in the absence of a dramaturgical structure. Spoken interventions from Julie Shanahan, a longtime collaborator of the late choreographer (with whom she worked more than 20 years) create a much needed and often amusing theatrical diversion, in the vein of Brechtian distancing effect, from the tenuous attempts at virtuosity of the young members of the company, which are not backed by emotional adherence to the choreographed material. The dancers are sometimes just lounging on long, white sofas, at some point they all undress and present colourful towels as if going to the beach, at some other point they are ready for cocktails and making out with each other. But this “relaxation” flattens the rhythm of the performance and it has nothing to do with the sensuality and lust the initial piece was vibrating with. It is playful and funny and it looks good but it lacks emotional depth.

Tanztheater Wuppertal “Água” A piece by Pina Bausch BAM Howard Gilman Opera House Brooklyn, N.Y. March 2, 2023 Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes

The only contemporary touch is the intentional crack in the gender polarization of Pina Bausch dancers. They used to be divided into women with long hair, long slip floral dresses and heels versus men with trousers and short sleeves shirts. This time some of the dancers on stage wearing dresses are non-binary and dancing beyond the limits of normativity (the amazing Naomi Brito is one of them).

Set wise the background of the stage is over animated by video images featuring palm trees in the wind, a band of Brazilian drums players, monkeys, sea views, but the powerful images sometimes swallow the dancers instead of supporting them.

Created when Pina Bausch spent time thanks to a residency in Brazil, in 2001, Agua has lost its colours like an old beautiful dress one is so in love with that one refuses to stop wearing it, even if it has been washed too many times. In the same way, Agua may connect one with past moments, its texture full of nostalgia, but after 20 plus years since its inception it doesn’t look so good in the daylight.

As the new artistic head of Tanztheater Wuppertal, choreographer Boris Charmatz seems still hesitant when it comes to’ Pina Bausch’s legacy. What to do with it? Reproduce it “as is” with new dancers executing the material without any emotional attachment to it, reframe it from a contemporary perspective, reorganize it, or just quote from it inside an entirely new dance piece?[1] For now, the heritage is too heavy on young shoulders, and Pina Bausch’s Agua seems to flow like water through the hands of her heirs.



[1] For now, reproduction seems to win, there is a new version of the famous Café Muller (1978) at Tanztheater Wuppertal: To be presented at Theatre de la Ville, Paris in July.

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