In February 2006 I went with α on an adventure to the home of the TanzTheater Pina Bausch: a weird city in the Ruhr called Wuppertal. It was my first anniversary with Pina, one year that she had slapped my face with her extraordinary dance theatre.
Wuppertal is famous for its upside down subway, the Schwebebahn. The train is actually hanging from the rails. It is disturbing to be in there when travelling above the river. The Schwebebahn gives a funny and unique look to the city. I also read in an interview of Pina that Wuppertal has an abnormal number of sects. I can see why people there would be desperate to enrol in something that would give a meaning to their life. It is a gloomy land.
The piece, Kontakthof, was performed in her theatre, an old cinema turned into a live performance space. It fitted her work perfectly. Everything about the place made sense with her. Seeing a show in the choreographer’s natural habitat helped me understand her better.
At the end of the show, when the dancers were bowing, I saw a very long and thin arm in the left wing of the stage. It was her so characteristic arm, recognisable among millions. She was giving directions to the dancers. I was moved to feel her presence, even invisible in the backstage.
The year after, I came back to the Ruhr to take the entrance audition at the Folkwang Hochschule, where Pina Bausch was the head of the dance department.
It was my second attempt. I didn’t even make the first cut, so I found myself alone in the Ruhr with a couple of days to kill.
I managed to find my way to the Zollverein, a sublime and impressive disaffected industrial complex right outside Essen, where they used to exploit the coal mines. The huge structure and machinery are still there but they got all covered with vegetation after the last coal was extracted in 1986. The place has been turned into a cultural complex, there is a museum, performances and other arty things going on.
I got lost alone in this Heterotopia for a whole day. The sun was out. There was no other living soul walking around the beauty of the premises. I adore industrial buildings and I had it all to myself. I felt like the Queen of an abandoned Kingdom. My heart was sinking and swinging between a feeling of immense freedom and images from Germinal by Emile Zola. A lot of human drama must have taken place where I was walking.
The human drama was still perceptible despite the beauty of the architecture, the nature growing over the brick buildings and the vivid light of July.
At this instant, I understood where all the darkness and despair omnipresent in the pieces of Pina Bausch were rooted. She was a child of the Ruhr. She soaked in the atmosphere of the coal mines since she had been born. “The Ruhr was her essence” said one day Pina’s friend Gérard Violette, former director of the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris.
This is exactly what it was. That day, alone in the immensity of the remnants of the 19th century industrial revolution with its flow of hopes and disillusions, I felt the essence of Pina Bausch.