The Pina Bausch Series – Episode #5: The Pilgrimage

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Throughout 2014, the City of Wuppertal organised festivities to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the TanzTheater Pina Bausch.

As a true Pina disciple, I had aligned all my stars to be present.

I went on an lonely 4-day pilgrimage to pay my respects to the woman who changed my life, and whom I presumptuously think of as my Spiritual Mother.

I arrived in Wuppertal on a grey day of January. The weather was as humid as my heart. I had dragged myself to the airport in tears because my lost love had been stirring the knife in the wound. This is the context in which I re-established connection with Wuppertal, 8 years after my first visit.

Had anything changed or was it conform to my memories?

The city was impregnated with Pina’s presence. Every public building was carrying her mark. The gloomy atmosphere of the Ruhr smelled of her ferocious dance-theatre.

I lived in her trail for 4 days.

I was staying at an isolated hostel up the hill of Wuppertal, in the middle of the woods, almost by myself in the building. An incredibly meditative Pina retreat started.

My loneliness was resonating in my temples. I loved it.

I attended workshops taught by dancers of the company. The first one was held by Nayoung Kim at the dance studio of the Wuppertal Opera. I shivered when I got changed in the dressing rooms used by the Gods of the TanzTheater Pina Bausch. I shivered when I glanced outside the window of the dance studio, thinking that all the cult pieces that shook me on stage had been created and rehearsed with that view.

I shivered all along.

The second workshop was held by a dancer I didn’t know and Malou Airaudo, one of the most emblematic female dancers of the company. Oh My God. Watching Malou. I remember thinking, when looking at Malou Airaudo, that we are all equal as human beings, but some contain so much more than some others. I don’t know. It just feels like the dancers of Pina Bausch contain the whole world and they are yet so fluid and slender. How do they contain that much? They are a different breed of human beings. That’s all I can say to summarise them.

Malou Airaudo is rough but huge-hearted as a teacher. Everything about her screams generosity, starting with her impressive hair. I had already dealt with her at the Folkwang Hochschule auditions. She’s abrupt in an awesome way. You can tell she never had time to beat around the bushes in her demanding dancer’s life. During the technical class, she was correcting us without ceremony. She was showing us movements and was then saying: “And I am 66!” as an evidence of how much more bravery we could use at our young age. It isn’t a matter of age though. It is simply her nature to be ten times as gorgeous as all of us together. Malou Airaudo is pure strength, pure wildness, pure sophisticated yet untamed dance. I rarely saw pure dance from that close.

Then.

I saw a piece at the Wuppertal Opera House, ‘For the Children of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow’. 

I saw exhibitions of photographs, stage props, set sketches, costumes from pieces I had seen or not.

I saw an installation made by the stage designer of the company in the beautiful glass building featured in the tribute movie by Wim Wenders. It was a funny moment. I sneaked in the park where the glass building is located, at the top of a hill above Wuppertal. I had gone all the way up pulling my suitcase. Again, I was completely alone in the park. Everywhere I was going, I was completely alone. A man finally came to me and asked me in German how I had managed to get in, because the park was closed to the public that day. He was kind enough to let me finish my sandwich.

I saw all that could possibly be seen about 40 years of dance theatre by Pina Bausch.

In between the stages of my pilgrimage, I was furtively crying because my lost love had been stirring the knife in the wound.

On the last day, it was time to complete the ultimate mission of the journey. I wanted to go on Pina Bausch’s grave to talk to her and thank her for opening my eyes on what life really is about. I wanted to tell her that her show ‘Nelken’ was the highest moment of my life.

There are at least 7 cemeteries in Wuppertal and it was a true investigation to track the one where Pina was buried (without internet access to make it burningly challenging.) I don’t remember how I put the pieces together, but I found the name of the correct place and managed to find my way to it. Again, it was up a hill and I was pulling my suitcase. (I don’t know why, I often walk alone up hills throughout the world carrying heavy stuff.)

I wanted to put carnations on her grave, as a tribute to ‘Nelken’ (‘carnations’ in German).

There was a little flower shop at the entrance of the cemetery. Flower man had two carnations left. I had 1.50€ on me that I should have kept to take the bus, but well. “How much for the two carnations?” I asked.“One is a bit broken so I can do both for 1.50€”. I smiled. I am sure that Pina was watching the scene. He gave me a map with the path to find her, and he kept my luggage.

I found her resting place easily. Near a pond and tall trees. That’s the closest I ever got to her.

How much do I regret never talking to her, even a few words, never taking a class with her, never exposing my dance to her glance. All those years of adoration until she passed away, I had an anchored certitude that I would end up meeting her some day, even somehow working with her just a bit. It was so obvious that the announce of her sudden death left me hammered and sceptical.

There I was standing on her grave, donating her my two humble flowers which were so small and ridiculous compared to the thousands she had inundated my heart with. How much do I love this woman? It is insane. I love her more than so many people I should morally love more than Pina Bausch.

I wrote her a thank you card with a woman dressed as a man. I cried a moment and asked her how she had dealt with the loss of her love*. It comforted me a little.

It started raining.

I left to catch my plane.

*Rolf Borzik, Pina Bausch’s great love and first stage designer, died of leukemia in 1980.

For further reading about Pina Bausch, see my articles (in French) posted on Toute La Culture, including reviews of Vollmond, Two Cigarettes in the Dark, and Masurca Fogo, a portrait of Pina by those who knew her and a reflection about why female artists, including Pina Bausch, are systematically labelled feminists.

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2 thoughts on “The Pina Bausch Series – Episode #5: The Pilgrimage

  1. I am not a dancer. But when I saw Pina Bausch for the first time, there was nothing more I wished than to be able to dance and perform like that. I’m deeply moved by your posts and shed vicarious tears reading them hoping someday to make my own pilgrimage to Wuppertal. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

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    • Lieber Christian,

      Thank you so much for reading my stories on Pina Bausch and for sharing your impressions on it. It is great that Pina equally speaks to dancers and non dancers. Wuppertal is an interesting experience, you should really go to get a deeper understanding of her work. Make sure to see a show at the old cinema rather than the wuppertal Opernhaus! I hope you keep reading me. Feel free to share my blog with some other Pina & life lovers 🙂 Gruesse

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