The Pina Bausch legacy has deep roots in the origins of German contemporary dance. In 1955 at the age of 15, Pina started serious dance training at the Folkwang Schule directed by Kurt Jooss (1901-1979).

© Bettina Stoess
© Bettina Stoess
Jooss was a pioneer of a new genre, 'Tanztheater', which had, as its ambition, the need to connect dance and dramatic work or theatre. Jooss had a strong technical background in ballet, but he disliked plotless dances and encouraged explorations of moral themes. His work, The Green Table (1932) about the bickering of politicians, preceded by one year Hitler's rise to power. In addition to his ballet training, Jooss had studied with Rudolph von Laban (1879-1958). who, as a young man, studied art in Paris There he witnessed a performance by Isadora Duncan. He would come to believe that movement should arise from the inner rhythm of the dancer and not from the music, and he began to generate theories about body movement, which further released dance from the domination of classical ballet. Although Pina Bausch was born three generations after Laban and two after Jooss, her work shares in their mixture of technical discipline, fragility and the radicalisation which appeared when an old world order (the Austro-Hungarian Empire) collapsed into the caldron of modernism.

In 1960 after graduating from Jooss' s Folkwang Schule, Pina received a scholarship to the Juilliard school in New York where she studied with Antony Tudor, Jose Limon and Paul Taylor. The 1960's saw  an explosion of contemporary dance in New York, from the Henry Street Playhouse to the post- modernist Judson Memorial Church workshops. Eventually, Pina returned to Germany in 1962 to join Jooss's new Folkwang-Ballett as a soloist and she created her first piece for the company in 1968 (Fragmente). By 1969, she had become the artistic director of the company.

From the many influences which shaped Pina Bausch, her choreography reveals a  range of styles: from Le Sacre du Printemps (1975) reminiscent of the original Nijinsky for Diaghilev; to Cafe Muller (1978) in which Pina dances a melancholic solo; to Vollmond (2006) and then the beautiful production of Orphee and Eurydice for the Paris National Opera. Pina collaborated with her dancers in making choreography, using improvisation and the dancer's personal memories of their own experiences. For her, repetition was a form of internal structuring for a composition. She stated that 'repetition is not repetition'. Perhaps, she meant that repetition, inherently, introduces change.

Ahnen (1987) can be said to follow in a tradition called 'Physical Theatre' which grew from many sources such as mime, the work of Laban, the theatre of Antonin Artaud (1896-1948), Japanese Noh and the Japanese Butoh. Characteristically, the work includes improvisation as an origin of content and the calculated use of music, dance, visual art and theatre.

© Ursula Kaufmann
© Ursula Kaufmann
'Ahnen' means 'to foresee', 'to have a premonition'. The set by Peter Pabst of cactuses of varying sizes and shapes was magnificent. Matthias Burkert put together extraordinary sounds, from traditional Nubian chants to Monteverdi. The lighting was atmospheric, and the costumes (Marion Cito) burst upon the stage: from 1950's cocktail dresses with voluminous skirts to surrealist concoctions which were 'off the wall' or the product of dreams. The emotions of the dancers were condensed into utterances and movements, the characters were drawn from the human condition.

Pina's stage world is peopled by eccentrics, defined as, everyone but me. Daily dramas are played out in miniature. I loved the woman who dined alone. When she had experienced enough of whatever, she fired a pistol. Other plots could be summerized as: 'Sometimes I wind wool'; 'Sometimes it rains'; 'Sometimes a man jumps through a hoop into a wall'. In part I, there was a delightful vignette: three middle-aged men sat in a row in deck chairs at the front of the stage. One sang the aria from Carmen,  'L'amour' while the middle one -in a beret -translated. The third man was inscrutable. As the opera lyrics were transmogrified into English, they proved to be profoundly ridiculous. 

By part II, I felt a fellow sympathy for ancient mariners, who saw all manner of strange monsters in the sea. After a multi-lingual cacophony, there occurred a disquisition in English on the buzz of a fly. In another poignant time-capsule, a solitary man repeatedly checked his diary to see when he was free; he was never engaged.

There was also one thematic element, the 'Foreboding' - the 'Ahnen' : A woman in a pink chiffon dress sat throughout the production holding a candle and polishing, cleaning (a mirror?). She brought to mind literary figures: Casandra foretelling; Penelope weaving; the old women [Fates] endlessly knitting in Heart of Darkness.

But I thought the performance was too long, and I felt its magic spark die away. I feel it should be tightened in some places. But Pina's works have become almost totemic since her sudden death in 2009.