The goodness of small things


The stage of “Masurca Fogo” represents choreographer Pina Bausch’s aesthetic world. And what a wide world it is: The 22 dancers are drawn from far and wide, and the music ranges from Brazilian samba and Portuguese fado, to k.d. lang and Duke Ellington.

The costumes are sensuous, and female dancers revel in their femininity. In slip dresses and high heels or colorful, classic-cut swimsuits, they toss around their long hair. And, this being the cross-cultural Tanztheater Wuppertal (Wuppertal Dance Theater), they all deliver their poetic lines in Japanese.

All these elements of Bausch’s protean world combine in a performance to delight her devoted following here.

The dance world has lately seen a trend toward gymnastics; toward the soaring jumps or high-speed spins. Others know there is more than athleticism to the quest for dance expression — and Bausch has long been a pioneer exploring the potential of contemporary dance.

This is the sixth time Bausch has brought her company to Japan since 1986, this time with three programs: an early work, “Die Sieben Todsunden (The Seven Deadly Sins),” and two recent pieces, “Masurca Fogo (Mazurka Flame)” and “Wiesenland (Grassland).”

Each program has its own powerful character, but all three are linked by a consistent theme — the expression of, and a wondering fascination with, the ancient human need for dance.

The evident physical release experienced by the Wuppertal dancers is liberating for the audience, too. Unrestrained by classical moves, they give their bodies and imaginations free expression within and beyond Bausch’s choreography. Their movements are simple and natural, often humorous. It’s all in keeping with the concept of “humanist” dance created by 61-year-old Bausch in her first work, 1968’s “Fragment,” and it’s a concept that has continued to strike a chord with audiences ever since.

In “Masurca Fogo,” she examines the most basic elements of human life: the relationship between men and women and the enjoyment of simple pleasures. Performers are seen drinking, swimming, dancing in a beach hut or just musing, often wistfully. The piece closes with everyone joining in to dance the mazurka, lending to its courtly classical moves more than a touch of absurdity that, too, says something about the human condition.

The flat stage rises, strikingly, into a black lava field, on which people occasionally rest. This is framed in white, onto which film images are projected, of musicians, the sea, sky or flowers opening and closing. Scenes unfold without coherency, suggesting that out of such insignificant, eclectic stuff our lives are woven.

Sometimes, the scene on stage evokes an artwork, a video clip or a scene from a film. I was struck by how much the production recalled the philosophy and aesthetics of the cinema of Jean-Luc Godard.

This protean art is the quintessence of Bausch’s aesthetic principles: masterful and multilayered, beautifully wrought and resonant with freedom — yet touched with a distubing edge of absurdity. During the 10 minutes of applause at the end, many in the audience appeared choked with emotion — and as they clapped, many were standing gazing in awe at Bausch and her dancers.