REVIEW: ★★★★ New Piece I, Since she – Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Sadler’s Wells Theatre

REVIEW: ★★★★ New Piece I, Since she – Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Sadler’s Wells Theatre

Since she is a weird and swirling underworld of figures and images cut from mythology and nightmares. Created by Dimitris Papaioannou, bodies appear and disappear in a carbonised, apocalyptic landscape of stacked black foam whilst simple pieces of furniture such as chairs and tables become symbolically loaded islands. They are essential shapes and points of solidity in this amorphous landscape, where nothing is quite as it seems.

The piece is both a creation myth and an exploration of the afterlife – pertinent themes considering the background of this remarkable company. Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch had been left in a creative limbo when the sudden death of the visionary dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch in 2009 gave the company very little option other than to continue to perform her works without being able to create anything new. Preservation is important, but it cannot be the meat and drink of dancers, or any kind of creative for that matter, and so the introduction of two new full-length works has re-energised a company that is now formed both of dancers who knew and worked with Bausch and of more recent newcomers.

Since she is in dialogue both with that past and the future in a work that feels ceremonious, scattered with ritual and repetition: a tree is dragged up the foam steps, planted, knocked down, dragged back up and planted again. Naked bodies slither in a strange physical amalgamation of Adam/Eve and the serpent, and a figure like Satan appears in a black dress that is stroked tenderly to gold. There is humour amidst these disturbing images, and playfulness too: particularly memorable is a kitchen scene in which a bloated sausage is ceremoniously delivered and inventively used.

Human bodies are dismembered and rearranged, sprouting extra limbs in a kaleidoscope of physical possibilities and showcasing this company’s excellent ensemble work. The company work together with a connection and earnestness, supporting and shaping one another with a dedicated integrity that feels unusually deep. The dancers seem to know and trust one another across several levels or dimensions: the relationships onstage are not purely physical, as is often the case with other dance companies. The dancers of Tanztheater Wuppertal work with a great sense of character, personality and connection, enabling them to perform this radical and strange work safely and fully. They approach the tasks of performance and each other in the space with both a shamanic sense of spiritual knowledge and a child-like playfulness and wonder, exploring the peculiar space inhabited by dancers as active participants and as objects onstage.

It is not a comfortable or easy performance to watch, with the soundscape proving particularly jarring as glasses and tubes are used to create microphone feedback. It is a challenging work of integrity and intellect, exploring the chthonic realms of human existence whilst honouring the great and influential spirit of Pina Bausch.  

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