For thirty-six years Pina Bausch was the creative nucleus of the Tanztheater Wuppertal. With her keen interest in human existence, an unbiased and constantly inquisitive eye, and impressive faith in her own aesthetic sensibility, together with her dancers and artistic collaborators she created a total of forty-four pieces. Their poetry, powerful images and ingenuity result from an examination of real life. This is seen particulary clearly in Pina Bausch’s working methods, asking her dancers simple, personal questions and using the answers, in the form of stories, movements or scenes, to create her pieces. Her feeling for authenticity was reflected in the stage sets of Peter Pabst and Rolf Borzik, in which elemental materials such as earth, grass and water left visible marks on the movements and costumes of the dancers. The international co-productions were also the result of intensive research processes. Whether Italy, Japan, Brazil, Hong Kong or Turkey, every country the company discovered on their extended residencies influenced the Tanztheater Wuppertal’s pieces culturally and aesthetically.
When Pina Bausch took over the dance department of the Wuppertal Theatres at the start of the 1973/74 season, and abandoned classical ballet to create her particular form of interplay between dance, movement, speech, costume and sets, the scepticism from audiences and critics was enormous initially. The dance theatre she developed was completely different from the ballet performed at the house till then. Right from the start the dancers exposed themselves as individual characters, revealing their stories by dancing, singing, talking, sometimes laughing and crying too. With individual scenes playfully sequenced, and calling up countless associations, the pieces approach their respective subjects using rich contrast and variety, with human relationships and altercations between the sexes frequently playing a big role. Thus Pina Bausch unleashed a revolution in performing arts which permanently altered the evolution of theatre, of classical and modern dance, and influenced the work of a whole generation of choreographers. Peter Pabst and Rolf Borzik created unforgettable sets, and the costumes of Rolf Borzik and Marion Cito rendered the dancers sensual, while Matthias Burkert and Andreas Eisenschneider created the rich musical collages for each piece. All this although everyone involved began each time from nothing. Each production was virgin territory, as yet unshaped thematically and artistically. The fact that movement, language, sets, costume, music and light came together to form a coherent whole is thanks to the creative skills of all artists involved.
With her credo ‘finding a language for life’ Pina Bausch did not only expand the expressive potential of dance to an unseen extent, she also fundamentally changed the artform itself. In this sense her pieces also change – not only at every performance but with every new casting. The fact that the majority of Pina Bausch’s pieces are still performed, in Wuppertal and throughout the world during the many tours, is thanks not only to their thematic and aesthetic timelessness, but also to the long-term practice of handing over from one generation of dancers to the next. Now companies such as the Paris Opera Ballet and the Bavarian State Ballet have also performed a few of her works. Since Pina Bausch’s death in 2009 her pieces have lived on in the dancers of the Tanztheater Wuppertal.
A particular challenge facing the international ensemble is to get a sense of ‘Pina’s spirit’ when recasting and reviving productions. Their members come from at least eighteen different countries and range in age from twenty-five to sixty-six – that too is undoubtedly unique. Around a third of the dancers, currently thirty-four in total, did not work with Pina Bausch.
From the 2017/18 season onwards an ‘outsider’ will be taking over as Intendant and artistic director of the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: along with the company’s dancers and creative collaborators, Adolphe Binder will maintain Pina Bausch’s huge repertoire along with the partnerships formed through decades of touring, and lead the company into a dynamic future by bringing in contemporary choreographers and generating new works each year. The new leader sees Pina Bausch’s work as characterised by ‘love of people, courage, interest in human depths and the ability to ask more questions than it answers.’ And this is how Adolphe Binder wants to carry on into the future.
Continuing to bring the Tanztheater Wuppertal up to date through constant evolution is undoubtedly what Pina Bausch would have wished. In one of her rare speeches, she said, ‘the questioning never ends, and the search never ends. There is something endless about it, and that is the beautiful thing.’
Translated by Steph Morris