Reviewed by on    Dance  

The Rite of Spring, Wuppertal Tanztheater at the NAC
Photo Alexandra Campeau


The ghost of Pina Bausch was no doubt fluttering with excitement around the NAC last night  as  the contemporary formation  of her company brought us all back to the very origins of  the idea of  Tanzteater , dance that incorporates words,  foregrounds a heightened form of theatricality  and much much more. All that came through very strongly last night in the Opera of the NAC before a packed house, waiting religiously to see the company from Wuppertal perform works that most people have not seen before in Ottawa.

In 1984 when the company first came to this city with Kontakthof, there was angry booing, as one man shook his cane at the stage and stomped out of the opera slamming the door behind him. Women manhandled by the males, strutting about the stage trying to zip up their dresses and carrying out apparently awkward everyday gestures had never been presented as dance before.  Thanks to the foresight of Yvon St- Onge , the producer  of dance at that period,  we were introduced   to the  most innovative  dance in the world and the Ottawa audience became a highly  sophisticated observer of corporeal  performance,   prepared for the  coming of  all the best in the world and the coming of dance director Kathy Levy who continues  that tradition.

The program now being presented at the NAC in Ottawa brings us back to the very source of the Wuppertal Tanztheatre  aesthetic and helps us forget  the disappointing concessions that have been made to contemporary audiences  in several  of the more recent pieces  by the company since Pina  Bausch’s death.

Café  Müller,  created in 1978, reveals the visions that underlie the intense theatricality of this “dance-theatre” company.  Inspired by a heightened  realism  that shows its expressionist origins, it combines a deeply symbolic gaze that eradicates  all narrative and transforms the human body into signs of contemporary engagement with the world. Locked in an enclosed space that could be a Restaurant or even  a  German Kneipe   filled with chairs and tables, a  women in a semi trance moves gracefully but with difficulty through the revolving doors, as light floods slowly into the area.  Even the lighting establishes  a certain visual  authenticity in this space surrounded by fragments of transparent walls.

Are they closed inside a cage as  prisoners of the German wall  that split the country, are they  driven into submission by the male presence that  appears to  control  their movements?   Is that masculine figure in the gray suit preventing the woman from moving feely or are the males in suits  offering  some sort of protection by kicking the chairs and table violently out of their way?  This explosion of   power and submission  evolves quickly.  Pushed into the arms of a weaker  young man in a shirt, one of the women in a gesture of abjection keeps clinging to that weaker  male  as both  are forced into  the   empty loving gestures  by the man in the dark suit, watching them.   These loving gestures are reiterated and  evolve rapidly into clinging and dropping as the woman rolls to the floor in an uncontrollable expression of helplessness. Although the both the woman and the man are  caught up  in gestures of violence as they push each other against the  transparent walls,  the young woman  is  the ultimate  object of this violence as she  drops to the floor and is scooped up by her partner,  an  image of male cruelty  that defines  the  female.

At the same time, various other mini-events appear and disappear in that space, one of the most ambiguous figures  appears to be a  tall slim near-transparent female figure out of a symbolist painting, gracefully floating  around  the edge , watching but keeping on the sidelines. She  infuses the tableau with  a  deathly spirit of   absence, leaving  a powerful impression on the  tableau that  thrusts us into the 21st  century.

Suddenly  we are able to shift to  2017,  where a  new world of migrants invading a traditional German space, is, subjected to mistreatment and  exclusion.  It  is all there!   In this world of potential  and real violence the soaring  music of Henry Purcell  fills the air with the  richly lyrical tones of a sacrificial ritual , carried by the disturbing  magnificence of a beautiful   soprano voice.  This dizzying  spiral of meaning   creates a clear link between the world of Café Muller and  the  choreography of the Rite of Spring.

Clearly betraying moments of collective choreography that moves from the Diaghilev  world of Russian peasants  transformed by the gazes of  Nijinsky and his sister,  through  German expressionism  and, Maurice Béjart ‘s  orgiastic vision of the stage, Pina Bausch has  interpreted  Stravinsky  in her own wildly  visceral and exciting way.

In this primitive world of  instinct,  the powerful  males and  delicate  females face off, vibrating   in contact with each other,  excited by the odors and feelings of damp earth under their feet  and smeared over their bodies  as they anticipate  the violent  copulation, the  ultimate immolation  that signifies the return of new life.  Are we touching on a new vision of  Artaud’s  Theatre of Cruelty which the writer described but never realized in his lifetime?  That is certainly possible.    The rising excitement  sweeps us away with  the  urges of  mating and subsequent dying  as  the chosen victim  is  possessed by a frenzy of self-destruction.  This is  well articulated in Stravinsky’s music,  heightened by the  strong movements of the dancers  and the NAC Orchestra  under the direction of  Joana Carneiro,.

You must not miss this evening  which is  certainly one of the unforgettable moments in the history of Dance programming at the NAC. Café Müller and The Rite of Spring Continue at Southam Hall, NAC from September 28  to 30, 2017.

Reviewed by  Alvina Ruprecht. Photo by Alexandra Campeau