Pina Bausch’s 1978 work Kontakthof returned to Japan this week after a 27 year hiatus. It is placed in a set that looks almost like a city hall, classroom or a dated dancehall, with curtains and an upright piano on stage. Popular songs from 1930’s Germany (Juan Llossas, Nino Rota, Charlie Chaplin and Anton Karas to name a few) are played. 26 performers – ladies dressed in bright colored satin formal dresses and high heels, gentlemen dressed in suits – are onstage. Kontakthof is a combination of German words – kontakt (contact) and hof (courtyard) – meaning contact zone. They confront the audience as though there is a mirror in front of them, and check their teeth, show their hands, smooth their dresses and try to look as attractive as they can.

Tanztheater Wuppertal © Arnold Groeschel
Tanztheater Wuppertal
© Arnold Groeschel

Not so much “dancing” occurs, but each of the performers try to get the attention of someone of opposite sex, to achieve a moment of contact. One man chases a woman and throws a rat at her several times. One woman asks someone in the audience for coins and rides a rocking horse. Two women in pink dresses dance around like angels. Women roll around on the floor, shouting. All the performers sit down in line and talk about their first love in their native languages. A woman teaches a man how to grind, twisting his hips and his waist. Occasionally, an intimate moment turns into sexual violence – however hard they wish to communicate to each other, they cannot always connect emotionally. Their longing for contact, mutual connections, and relationships is quite overwhelming.

But as you are watching the many things happening on stage, you find a character that seems to reflect yourself, or get the intimate feeling that the performer is your friend. We begin to imagine what kind of life they have lived, what makes them do things and why they want to build a relationship so badly. Thus we begin to connect with our personal memories and feelings.

Kontakthof © Arnold Groeschel
Kontakthof
© Arnold Groeschel

Not everything happening on stage is pleasant, although many humorous situations occur. Sometimes ruthless violence happens, and you can see how cruel a person can be while they strive to get what they want. But as the performance goes on, emotional bliss blankets our minds. As all the dancers walk in line, stretching their arms uniformly (with the exception of one lady), we recognize their diversity, these men and women of different ages, heights and ethnicities. Each of them is different, but they all share the desire to connect and touch people.

One of the loveliest moments in this work of almost 3 hours long is when the curtain opens and the performers turn their backs to the audience to watch a documentary movie on wild birds. They look as though they are young students in classrooms, in high spirits as they watch but melancholic when they disband. Also memorable is the scene near the finale, when, clad in black, the dancers form couples and caresses each other in the dark, posing to be photographed – it is so haunting, although the following sequence of sexual assault is also quite shocking. But then, in the end they all slowly march in circles, showing that life goes on for everyone. 

Kontakthof © Arnold Groeschel
Kontakthof
© Arnold Groeschel

Kontakthof is now 35 years old, but it has become a timeless classic with its omnipresent theme – its novelty is fresh even now, 5 years after Bausch's sudden death. No wonder it has been reimagined. It was performed by senior citizens as Kontakthof at 65 in 2000, and a version performed by local teenagers between 14 and 17 was created in 2008, the latter was filmed as a documentary named Tanz Traume. This performance was proof that Bausch’s spirits will endure with Tanztheater Wuppertal.

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