German choreographer Pina Bausch, whose work is credited with revolutionizing the language of modern dance, died on Tuesday after being diagnosed with cancer only days earlier. She was 68.
Bausch, artistic director of the Wuppertal Dance Theater, earned world renown for her avant-garde performances and choreographies mixing dance, sound and fragmented narrative.
“An unexpected death carried her away five days after being diagnosed with cancer,” the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch said on its Web site. “Only the Sunday before last she was on the stage with her company at the Wuppertal Opera House.”
“Unlike almost no other, she broke out of traditional structures in dance, modernized classical ballet and coined her own, idiosyncratic style,” German Vice Chancellor Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a statement.
Bausch choreographed and staged her own pieces, such as Cafe Mueller and Viktor, and performed in films by iconic film directors Federico Fellini and Pedro Almodovar.
She had been preparing to work together with director Wim Wenders on what was being called the first 3-D dance feature, a project named Pina.
From Paris, where Bausch often performed, Mayor Bertrand Delanoe and French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand issued statements of condolence.
“The world of dance is in mourning today after the loss of one of its most brilliant representatives,” Mitterrand said.
Josephine Bausch was born in the western town of Solingen on July 27, 1940, the daughter of the owners of a modest restaurant-cum-hotel. In 1955 she began her dance studies at the Folkwang School in Essen, where her professor was Kurt Jooss, a founding father of “Ausdruckstanz” or expressive dance combining movement, music and elements of dramatic art.
Graduating in 1958, Bausch won a scholarship and headed to the US — “not speaking a word of English,” she said.
Once there, she studied at the Juilliard School of Music in New York under prestigious teachers such as Anthony Tudor, Jose Limon and Mary Hinkson. She danced for the Dance Company Paul Sanasardo and Donya Feuer, the New American Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera in New York before returning in 1962 to Germany, where she became a soloist in the newly formed Folkwang Ballett.
In the late 1960s Bausch began to choreograph her own works — creations so cutting edge that baffled audiences would walk out. But as her highly personal style with often exaggerated forms of expression and scenery developed, she won a growing and enthusiastic fan base and would soon make an indelible mark on the modern dance scene worldwide.
In 1973 she became artistic director and choreographer at the newly founded Wuppertal dance theater company.
She received a host of prizes throughout her career, including a Golden Lion lifetime achievement award at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and nomination to the French Legion d’Honneur in 2003.
Thin and always dressed in black, with her jet black hair tied back in a ponytail, she divided audiences to the end, however, with her performances often attracting cheers and boos in equal measure.
Gerard Violette, former head of the Theatre de la Ville in Paris that became something of a second home to Bausch, described her as “one of the greatest artists of the last 50 years.”
“Pina Bausch began by creating cruel, radical works. Then, though she never changed her mind about solitude and the difficulty of communicating, the love she received from audiences finally brought her pleasure in bringing pleasure,” Violette said.