Pina Bausch’s spirit lives on in her work inspired by Cuba’s Danzón

Iconic German choreographer Pina Bausch may have died in 2009, but her spirit is alive and well in the company she founded, Natasha Gauthier writes in this performance review in the Ottawa Citizen.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch returned to the NAC Friday night with this season’s exclusive Canadian engagement of Bausch’s 1995 work Danzón. Named after the national dance of Cuba, Danzón is a meandering saunter through the garden of human life experience, from cradle to grave.

All the elements that made Bausch such a towering figure in dance can be found in Danzón: the ebb and flow between theatre and dance; the laugh-out-loud visual humour; glorious backdrops, music, projections and costumes; above all, that singular, poetic beauty and sincerity of her emotional expression.

The piece opens with two women in white gowns gracefully miming what appear to be the throes of labour. A man in a diaper crawls around on stage flinging rocks at them. The baby man and his shadow, a kind of melancholy, sad-sack figure in a blue dress shirt, reappear sporadically throughout, the birth/ death parentheses to the intense living uncoiling itself onstage.

Danzón is whimsical, extravagant, sensual and chaste at the same time. Nude women cavort in bathtubs, only to be carted away – some more willingly than others – by a masked man.

As in so many of Bausch’s works, games of love and sex dominate the interaction between the dancers. Sometimes these games are playful and bubbly, other times they are darker and more risky.

Bausch is known for her eclectic musical choices. Danzón‘s soundtrack features everything from Italian opera and Mahler to techno, Portuguese fado and Big Band-era jazz.

The evening’s most moving moment occurs toward the end of the piece, when a young male dancer dressed in black takes the stage to perform the solo Bausch choreographed for herself. Moving fluidly before projected images of fish swimming in an aquarium, the dancer wears the particular honour with grace and gravitas.

“Dance, otherwise we are lost,” said Bausch. Fortunately for their fans around the world, her dancers have taken that command to heart.

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