From birth to death

Poignant work is Pina Bausch’s mas­ter­piece

Ottawa Citizen - - ARTS & LIFE - NATASHA GAU­THIER

What hap­pens to a dance com­pany when its vi­sion­ary founder is no longer hold­ing the reins?

Ger­man chore­og­ra­pher Pina Bausch died in 2009, just five days af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with can­cer. At the time, many in the dance world fret­ted over the fu­ture of her mon­u­men­tal artis­tic legacy and the sur­vival of Tanzthe­ater Wup­per­tal, the in­flu­en­tial com­pany she launched in 1973. Merce Cun­ning­ham, an­other lu­mi­nary of con­tem­po­rary dance, died that same year, but left a crys­tal clear road map for his com­pany’s con­tin­u­a­tion. In con­trast, Pina’s sud­den pass­ing led to a tug of war over her es­tate and a lead­er­ship vac­uum at the head of her troupe.

A lit­tle more than two years later, those tur­bu­lent, un­cer­tain times seem to be well be­hind Tanzthe­ater Wup­per­tal. To­day the com­pany’s artis­tic di­rec­tor­ship is shared be­tween long­time mem­bers Do­minique Mercy and Robert Sturm. The com­pany con­tin­ues to en­joy the sup­port of Ger­man lo­cal and state gov­ern­ments, and its tour­ing sched­ule is as busy as it ever was while Pina was still alive.

“The de­mand for her work has not wa­vered one iota, on the con­trary,” says NAC dance pro­ducer Cathy Levy, who has cul­ti­vated a close re­la­tion­ship with the com­pany over her 10-year ten­ure in Ot­tawa. “It’s a great joy and a priv­i­lege that we’ve been able to present them as of­ten as we have.”

Three times in the past decade, in fact. The last time Tanzthe­ater Wup­per­tal was in Ot­tawa was in 2007, per­form­ing Bausch’s Is­tan­bul-in­spired Ne­fes. On Nov. 25, the com­pany re­turns for two evenings with her 1995 mas­ter­piece Danzón. Once again, the per­sua­sive Levy has scored a re­mark­able coup: it will be Wup­per­tal’s only Cana­dian ap­pear­ance this sea­son.

Danzón is about no less am­bi­tious a sub­ject than the jour­ney of hu­man life, from birth to death.

“We had talked about bring­ing Danzón to Ot­tawa when (Pina) was still alive,” says Levy. “It’s a de­light­ful, poignant, hu­mor­ous work.”

One of Danzón’s most fa­mous sec­tions is the ex­u­ber­ant cen­tre­piece solo Bausch chore­ographed for her­self — one of the very rare in­stances where she danced in one of her own works. The ques­tion of who would per­form the solo in its cre­ator’s ab­sence was set­tled with a sur­pris­ing twist, one for which Bausch no doubt would have given her icon­o­clas­tic bless­ing.

“Pina’s solo will be per­formed by a male dancer,” Levy ex­plains. “Not only that, but by one of the new­est mem­bers of the com­pany, who joined just be­fore she died. Pina re­lied on her se­nior dancers but she was al­ways bring­ing in new tal­ent. She was also very in­ter­ested in the flu­id­ity be­tween male and fe­male. So I think giv­ing her solo to this new, male re­cruit is a very res­o­nant ges­ture.”

Levy hopes to con­tinue bring­ing the com­pany back, cit­ing a long wish­list of works that in­cludes Bausch’s 1975 set­ting of Stravin­sky’s Sacre du Print­emps and her 1978 Café Müller, chore­ographed to the mu­sic of Henry Pur­cell.

“The com­pany ex­ists to do Pina’s work,” she says. “When she died, the com­pany al­ready had com­mit­ments to 2013. I think they are tak­ing it one chunk at a time, but her reper­toire is so rich and varied that it’s fea­si­ble they can keep go­ing for a long time. It’s what Pina would have wanted.”

ROBERT STE­FAN­SKI PHOTO

Aida Vainieri of Tanzthe­ater Wup­per­tal per­forms in Danzón. The NAC scored a coup by book­ing the dance com­pany’s only Cana­dian ap­pear­ance this sea­son.

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