Pina Bausch- Cafe' Muller and The Rite of Spring- Hong Kong Arts Festival


By Nuria Palau




Over the last 45 years, Pina Bausch has become a point of reference in art, performance and dance for people all around the world. They have written essays, memoirs, reviews and articles on her work; she has inspired dancers and musicians; and in 2011 Wim Wenders made her a tribute through the Academy nominated documentary: Pina.


Now I stand here trying to say something new about two of her most emblematic works presented in the Hong Kong Arts Festival: Cafe Müller (1978) and The Rite of Spring (1975). I could talk about what happened on stage; about how the dancers didn’t miss a beat or how the set was flawless. I could also comment on symbolism and the way Bausch’s work deals with gender issues. But I prefer not to. For starters, because it is the basic information that can be found since 1975; and secondly because after watching these pieces live, you understand why Pina Bausch didn’t like to talk about her work, how only the pieces can do so for themselves. I will talk instead about the feel, the emotion, and all those other unquantifiable things that this performance awakes.


First Cafe Müller, a captivating oneiric piece that is as surreal as it is delicate. The dancers dominate the space and flow through it as one who has been somewhere before but can’t put a finger on when or why. The music doesn’t guide the dancing but accompanies it almost as background and, at moments, disappears, letting a great silence fall. This piece is luring; its sensitivity calls the audience like a Sisyphean dream from which you don’t want to wake up. It is as familiar as it is confusing; still new as it becomes predictable, it is almost as meaningless as it is deeply meaningful; it is as asleep as it is awake; but above all it is beautiful. The characters are bright and sharp, each invested with personality, objectives and baggage. They move in patterns, repeating themselves in search of something. The dance crescendoes, finding a perfect balance between an intensity touching on insanity and its contention with those characters who are slightly more grounded or, at least, have their eyes open. By the end, the audience is hypnotised and so involved in the cycles that it was hard to believe it was over.


After the most entertaining half hour intermission, in which the space was transformed with the curtains up from a cafe into a black box with a carpet of soil, came The Rite of Spring.  The two pieces make a cathartic contrast, as siblings who are completely different do things: we still see something similar in their mannerisms and somewhere in their physicality that they are related.


Also luring and sensitive, The Rite of Spring comes off much more forcefully than Cafe Mueller. It tells the story of a woman sacrificed in a misogynistic interaction between men and females. The dancers and the way they move communicate as much as a photograph or a thousand words. The ensemble of 34 dancers dominates the stage like a stampede in perfect unity. The performance is powerful, violent, raw, loud and real, matching the majesty of Stravinsky's score. Then blackout.


The audience clapped so hard, as if their hands were burning,  as if re-enacting the dancers' physical and emotional sacrifice. A standing ovation overtook the theatre for 5 minutes and was only cut off when the house lights turned back on. I don’t think anyone in the audience left the theatre the same as they came in.


I remember a professor at University saying that what is sublime belongs to the world of the ineffable, of that we cannot speak. Pina Bausch’s world belongs there. I left the theatre speechless, sure that what I saw was technically perfect but that hadn’t been what made it beautiful. Words filled my mind but none of them seemed adequate. I was sure I had found a meaning to all but then knew my interpretation wasn’t meant to be objective. The explanation I had also found relates with my baggage. Then I thought, “this is art at its finest”.


Rate This Show: 1 2 3 4 5 Audience Rating: 5.0


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