Tickets for Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, at the National Theater for a four-day run that began last Thursday as part of this year’s Taiwan International Festival of Arts, were sold out by the end of January. The troupe, making its fifth visit to Taiwan, has always been popular here, but even for them the tickets went exceptionally fast.
Taipei dance lovers were especially eager to see the show because it paired Bausch’s Cafe Muller (1978) with Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring), which premiered in 1975. Both are considered early Bausch masterpieces.
The weekend’s performances showed that the company is still going strong four years after Bausch’s death under the joint leadership of dancer/administrator Dominique Mercy and Robert Sturm. However, they also showed that not all of her work has aged well.
The stage was set for the 40-minute-long Cafe Muller when the audience entered the theater: a rather gloomy collection of tables and chairs spread across the stage, with mirrored panels along both sides and one in the back, and a revolving door in the back. The stage is so cluttered with tables and chairs there is almost no room for the six people who appear on it.
It is a melancholy work, the loneliness and longing in it heightened by the score — excerpts from Henry Purcell’s operas The Fairy Queen and Dido and Aeneas — with just six dancers: Helen Pikon, Nazareth Panadero, Michael Strecker, Jean-Laureant Sasportes, Mercy and alternating in the final role, Azusa Seyama (who performed on Saturday night) and Aida Vainieri.
The piece centers around two women, who appear to be sleepwalking, as they move in their own worlds on stage, disconnected from each other and the cafe setting. Sasportes’ main job is to clear room among the tables and chairs for Pikon and Seyama to move, something that becomes increasingly difficult as the piece goes on. The disconnect between genders was evidenced by Strecker manipulating Seyama and Mercy into an embrace, then placing Seyama in Mercy’s arms, from which she promptly falls, only for all three to repeat the motions again, again and again, faster and faster and faster.
The cast was able and willing, but at least for this reviewer, the spirit was weak — it was not only difficult to stay involved as the 40-minutes piece wore on, it was difficult to stay awake.
Much more engaging, almost viserally so, was Le Sacre du Printemps, set to the score of the same name by Igor Stravinsky. The tale of a maiden chosen by her tribe as a sacrifice, who dances herself to death, has been reworked, extrapolated and reinvented by choreographers in both ballet and modern dance since Vaslav Nijinsky first created it as a one-act ballet for the Ballet Russes in 1913. Bausch’s is one of the most powerful versions.
The crowded Cafe Muller set was replaced during the intermission, in full view of the audience, with a ground covering and layer of earth and that was it for the set. The dirt is kicked up, shuffled through and rolled upon by the 33 dancers, the women clad in thin, nude-toned slips and the men only in black pants. As the dance progresses, more of the dirt is transferred to the dancers’ sweaty bodies, reinforcing the primitiveness of the scene. The only dash of color is a red silken cloth, which the women recoil from, individually and as a group.
In this society, the men dominate the action as well the women, thundering through them, hurling them around, holding them perched on their shoulders.
Saturday night’s audience was thrilled that the sacrificial victim was danced by Yu Tsai-chin (余采芩), a Taipei National University of the Arts (TNUA, 國立臺北藝術大學) graduate who joined the company in 2008, the first Taiwanese dancer to do so. Yu’s was a delight to watch, from the almost tentative start to the power, gut-wrenching convulsions before she collapses in the dirt and the lights go out.
TNUA was also well represented by its alumni among the choreographers whose works were presented by Cloud Gate 2 (雲門2) in its Spring Riot program at Taipei’s Metropolitan Hall over the weekend.
The program opened with two pieces by Huang Yi (黃翊), Lost For Words (無聲雨) and Light (光), both of which featured him as a dancer, which has been rather rare in his works of late. They also featured pure dance, with none of the technology that features so prominently in works he has made on his own.
Lost For Words, set to Arvo Part’s Fur Alina is a solidly romantic piece for two couples who move in, around and on the edges of the spotlit center of the stage with almost music-box prettiness. Light, set to Steve Reich’s Three Movements for Orchestra, features nine dancers and centers around a series of almost tango-ish duets, with the women often pressed up tight against their partners, legs sliding down and around the men’s legs and lots of very tight spins in and out of the men’s arms.
Cheng Tseng-lung’s (鄭宗龍) Blue Hour (一個藍色的地方), set to John Tavener’s The Protecting features six women, clad in sleeveless, belted long black dresses, often moving silhouetted against a white back screen. Cheng’s love of tight engineering and almost architecturally pure, sharp movements were on full display as the women moved on their own or as a scuttling group, criss-crossing the stage, hair often flailing. With a great solo for Cloud Gate 2’s leading lady, Yang Ling-kai (楊淩凱), Blue Hour was the best work on the program.
A big disappointment, however, was Bulareyaung Pagarlava’s Uncertain/Waiting (帕格勒法), set to Reich’s Six Pianos, with a cast of nine men and Yang. Perhaps because I liked the shorter, smaller cast version seen in 2011, I was more disappointed that this expanded version seemed to drag on far longer than was necessary. The work features a lot of improvisation designed to show off the dancers’ personalities, and there were plenty of physical jokes as well as sarcastic interplays between Bulareyaung, directing the action from the back of the theater, and the dancers. Everyone worked hard, but in the end the piece felt flat.
Cloud Gate 2 will take Spring Riot to Greater Taichung on April 20 and 21, and then to Greater Kaohsiung at the beginning of May as part of the Kaohsiung Spring Arts Festival.