Pina Bausch established her Tanztheater Wuppertal in the early ’70s. Working from a small town in Germany’s industrial heartland, her company has built up an extraordinary international reputation with more than 35 productions to its name.
“Tenchi,” the 12th international co-production of the Tanztheater Wuppertal, is the result of a long-established relationship with Saitama Arts Theater, who first invited Bausch to work with them when they opened 10 years ago. Bausch started research for this new work in November last year, when she and her company visited and took lessons in, among other things, Japanese language, budo (martial arts) and kendo, as well as conducting research into traditional Japanese crafts; they also participated in the local Chichibu night festival.
In this new work, her dancers seem to have engaged with the vernacular language both intellectually and physically; the piece is peppered with light-hearted as well as serious attempts at communication in Japanese. In the first half, each dancer comes to the front of the stage claiming to be researching a different aspect of the culture, in a parody of the ensemble’s own ventures into Japanology. Other motifs drawn from Japanese martial arts have been incorporated into the dancer’s own individual styles, and the final, heart-stopping rumba includes a moment where two dancers — one in stilettos, the other in geta — perform a kind of wild tap-dance.
As so often with Bausch, the central theme is communication. In one scene a couple attempt to kiss each other while a third person stands in between; in another image, a male and female dancer work themselves into sexual ecstasy through contact, not with each other, but with a pair of snakes wrapped around their respective necks, which they play with erotically.
“Tenchi” means “heaven and earth” and Peter Pabst has come up with a stunningly simple set that gives organic shape to this concept. At the rear of the stage, a sea creature’s back, and at the front, what looks like an imposing pair of bird’s wings supported by a necklike trunk. In the second half I realized that this must, of course, be the fish’s tailfin disappearing into the ocean.
I think Bausch would have enjoyed my confusion. She has often talked about the need to see things from the “inside out,” arguing that “much remains to be expressed within the depth of my body. This cannot be made into words.” But you need to see Bausch’s extraordinary, diverse new work in order to find this out for yourself. If you can’t make it, you can also see the company perform the 1981 work “Bandoneon” at the Shinjuku Bunka Center theater next week.
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