When a dance company is completely bound up in the imagery of the person it is named for, what is to be done when he or she is no longer there to create new images? The Merce Cunningham Dance Company came to an orderly and planned full stop in the third year after Merce’s death; but, the companies of Marie Rambert, Martha Graham and José Limón – to name just three – are continuing, decades after their founders shuffled off this mortal coil.

Tanztheater Wuppertal in Papaioannou's <i>Since She</i> © Julian Monnert
Tanztheater Wuppertal in Papaioannou's Since She
© Julian Monnert

If I may continue that literary association, “To be, or not to be” is the question that must confront those who are left behind and in the case of Pina Bausch’s sudden death, the decision of her close-knit collaborators (coming off stage in Poland when they heard the shocking news, almost ten years ago), was to continue performing her work, which they have been doing to laudable effect, ever since (in spite of a flurry of changes in the artistic leadership of the company over the past decade).

This piece by Dimitris Papaioannou (the first of a pair in an eleven-day season at Sadler’s Wells, to be followed by Alan Lucien Øyen’s Bon Voyage, Bob…) represents a seismic shift in policy. The first new full-length works to be made on the company since Pina’s passing and the first to be made (or, to be strictly accurate, led) by anyone other than Bausch herself.

Papaioannou’s Since she straddles the chasm between being an homage to the much-loved territory of Bausch while crossing over into new landscapes but, somehow, it lacks the holism and intrinsic style that I have come to appreciate in the best of Tanztheater Wuppertal’s Bausch collection. Papaioannou presents striking moments of beauty and wonder but these are studded within a cluttered and confusing environment.

Tanztheater Wuppertal in Papaioannou's <i>Since She</i> © Julian Monnert
Tanztheater Wuppertal in Papaioannou's Since She
© Julian Monnert
Let me take humour as an example. It is deeply inherent to this company’s work and, occasionally, subtle, comedic heights were reached. The long opening sequence of sixteen elegantly-dressed performers building a bridge of chairs to take them across the stage concluded with one chair being placed behind the final guy, and out of his reach. His “look” combining desperation, annoyance and helplessness - all conveyed in a fleeting second - was comedy gold. Other moments brought humour served up (in one case, literally) as a shock tactic, smeared onto the performance with a very broad trowel.

Tina Tzoka’s set design was suitably monumental, evoking imagery of Péter Pabst’s remarkable sets for Bausch’s World Cities series, with piles of roughly-stacked, mattress-sized objects upstage (akin to a wall of dilapidated, old-style, school gym mats). This was a hill of sorts in which a tree, complete with root ball, was planted and removed and up and down which dancers (both naked and clothed) climbed and slithered. The traditional costume predilection with slinky evening wear and high heels spilled over from the past to the present, although the device of brushing a fabric to turn sequins from black to gold and back again was overused.

Music and spoken text are always major aspects of the endearing memories of Bausch’s work, and, here, there is none of the latter and the eclectic musical landscape (very evocative of her work) only gets to work in earnest after the slow (and silent) beginning.

Tanztheater Wuppertal in Papaioannou's <i>Since She</i> © Julian Monmmert
Tanztheater Wuppertal in Papaioannou's Since She
© Julian Monmmert
Since She is just ninety minutes long (surprisingly brief compared to the works of later Bausch vintage) into which Papaioannou packs an impressive amount, with several sequences happening simultaneously or overlapping. Optical illusions are plentiful in the mix: a woman has several pairs of legs; a naked man holds an apparently executed female head by its long hair to cover his own genitalia; and there are other sequences involving seemingly disembodied limbs. Clever, witty and visually spectacular moments enlivened a text that could also be surprisingly dull.

 What was most striking about this performance, however, is not that it is a work from a different brain, but that it is a work performed by many different bodies. Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch has always been an ensemble that stayed together, with the charm of her work being partly invested in the performances of much-loved personalities. Although a few remain strikingly obvious in this cast (Ruth Amarante, Julie Anne Stanzak and Michael Strecker have clocked up 80 years’ service between them), there are also many newcomers who will have never experienced the creation of a work by Bausch herself. And, that, more than anything, is the point of this. A company in the image of its founder undergoing a regeneration of creativity in both the making and receiving of new work. In that important context, Papaioannou’s appropriately entitled Since She is a bold and meaningful forward step.




***11