Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch – Der Fensterputzer – London

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in Der Fensterputzer. © Oliver Look. (Click image for larger version)
Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in Der Fensterputzer. © Oliver Look. (Click image for larger version)

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch
World Cities 2012: Der Fensterputzer (The Window Washer)

London, Sadler’s Wells
18 June 2012
World Cities 2012 details
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The fifth offering in this World Cities season of ten co-productions made by Tanztheater Wuppertal, under the direction of the late Pina Bausch, with various metropolitan authorities from around the globe concerns the sights, sounds and flavours of Hong Kong.   It was conceived in 1997, just a few months before sovereignty over the region was transferred back to China, and made possible through a joint venture with the Hong Kong Arts Festival Society and the Goethe-Institut in Hong Kong.   Chronologically, it was the 4th of these World City events to be made (following just a few months behind ‘Nur Du’, which was created in association with various bodies in California, Arizona and Texas).

I mention these facts because I think they are important to an overall appreciation of this particular work.    Firstly, it speaks of a different Hong Kong than the one we know of today; and secondly, it comes from the middle period of Bausch’s output where dance is just one of many elements in the theatrical experience on offer (and by no means the dominant force).

Direct references to Hong Kong are subtly nuanced and often subliminal.   Any visitor to the territory in the mid-1990s will recognise the almost incidental and international flavour of the music, which is most often in the background here, as it would have been in any Kowloon street, back then.   Some references were more overt: the occasional appearance of the window washer (Andrey Berezin) hoisted high up in the neon-decked streets; a rope bridge precariously strung above the stage, across which Berezin and Dominique Mercy struggled to walk, respectively carrying a bicycle and a suitcase (perhaps representing the ancient and modern facets of Hong Kong); and a love of fireworks, bicycles and apologies.   But, more often than not, we are left puzzling as to the relevance of the association.   The world’s largest indoor ski training slope now resides at North Point in Hong Kong but I’m prepared to guess that skiing was not a normal pastime in the territory back in 1997; and so why does Berezin don a pair of skis to repeatedly step up and glide down the mountain of petals as if it were snow?    And what exactly does the mountain of red petals mean?   Whatever it represents, this huge pile of red flowers is integral to the work, providing inspiration for many of its episodes.  When the performers throw the flowers into the air to represent fireworks exploding into patterns of red it is a remarkably realistic image.

Nazareth Panadero in Der Fensterputzer. © Francesco Carbone. (Click image for larger version)
Nazareth Panadero in Der Fensterputzer. © Francesco Carbone. (Click image for larger version)

Bausch’s tendency to breach the fourth wall happens on a regular basis throughout this show.   Punters in the first few rows of the stalls are shown photos of the performers or their relations; they are asked to show their tickets and told that they’re in the wrong seats (finally the supremely authoritarian Mechtild Großmann tells us that we must all be in the wrong seats).  Best of all Fernando Suels Mendoza invites audience members to ask for some refreshment and runs off excitedly to find wine, water or whatever.  At the end of this sequence he’s asked for a banana, but doesn’t return.  An hour or so (and an interval) later he suddenly comes running in with wild glee, waving the banana aloft.    Sub-consciously we were all expecting this to happen but it was funny nonetheless!

Seeing these shows back-to-back, the leit motifs that run through Bausch’s repertoire are easily recognised – the smoking woman (here three women share a cigarette while seated under a standing woman’s voluminous skirt); the dogs (Pekinese, in this case, and randomly brought on, as if glove puppets attached to Berezin’s arms); the screaming, feinting girl; ablutions on stage (here, washing and shaving); the horizontal woman held aloft; and the regular passages of sinuous, folding movement with ongoing simple, repetitive hand and arm motifs.

Underpinning all of these familiar devices is the remarkable, intoxicating charisma of this extended family of performers, many of whom have been with the company for 30+ years.   They continue to represent, with a comfortable faultless ease, Bausch’s unique cultural legacy in this absurd, sexy, tragi-comic brand of dance theatre, which many have tried to imitate but no-one can.

I want to savour the enjoyment of this tanztheater relay as if it were a marathon but regrettably it is turning into a sprint that will soon be over.   But, what memory each of these works is leaving in their wake.

About the author

Graham Watts

Dance Writer/Critic. Member of the Critics' Circle, Chairman of the Dance Section and National Dance Awards Committee. Writes for leading dance magazines & websites - in UK, Europe, USA, Japan & cyberspace. Graham is based in London.

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