The Pina Bausch Series – Episode #1: Nelken

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This is the story of how Pina Bausch irrupted in my life, turned it upside down and inspired it for ever after.

It’s been 10 years of awesome relationship.

It all started in February 2005. I had been living in London for 3 months, working in an organic grocery that I hated.

I got involved a little with a customer who was an American university professor in his 50s (and a foot fetish but that’s a different story).

He knew my passion for dance as I had recently graduated in contemporary dance myself. One day, he came to the shop and told me that I had to go and see this famous German choreographer whose company was performing at the Sadler’s Wells theatre. I knew her name from my dance history course, but I had a fairly blurred knowledge of her work. The guy really convinced me. I don’t know why I took his advice although I otherwise didn’t have an immense respect for his opinion. This man only entered my life to point me the direction of the TanzTheater Wuppertal and vanished.

After work that day, I queued outside the theatre hours before the show, hoping for a last minute ticket as it was obviously sold out. I had £25 in my pocket. I couldn’t go beyond.

While I was waiting in line, a cab stopped in front on the main entrance and a very thin and pale lady dressed all in black got out. She had a little grin on her face. Someone said: “That’s Pina Bausch!” I saw her in the flesh twice in my life, and that was the first.

As time was passing by, I was renouncing to ever be able to make it to the show that day. Suddenly, someone touched my shoulder: “Are you by yourself?” Of course I was. “One ticket is available. It’s £25.” Bingo. I was holding the precious ticket like Charlie did when he got his toWilly Wonka’s chocolate factory. I still remember the name of the original owner in print on the magical door opener: “Cohen“. Bless you Mr or Mrs Cohen. Your no-show changed the course of my emotional life.

I was one of the last people to get in, and I was still breathless from rushing up the stairs when they turned off the light of the room. The stage was entirely covered  with a field of fresh carnations. Music from the 20s started playing. Women in long shimmering dresses appeared on stage carrying chairs. They put the chairs down and sat on them. Then, nothing. They were sitting still, looking at us with the old music crackling in the background. I got the goosebumps and a rush of tears, just like that. I felt so close to the dancers all of a sudden that I could smell their hairspray from the second circle. I got hit by proper genius just as if I got hit by love at the first sight. My life was taking a turn because someone was finally talking to me.

When the giant Lutz Förster performed The Man I Love by Gershwin in sign language (see video below), that was it, Pina had just put a ring on my finger. I never took it off.

It’s been my strongest theatre moment so far – and possibly one of my strongest life moment. I’m not exaggerating. I never want to see that show again because I want to carry my initial memory of it on my death bed.

After that night, I was ecstatic for a few days, life was suddenly wonderful. People around me didn’t quite get my excitement for what they thought was a dance show – solemn and pompous. I kept saying: “You don’t get it guys, you don’t get it, I can’t explain. You have to see.”

I vowed to see a Pina show every February of my life. I’m proud to say that I only missed 2007, 2010 and 2011.

But I compensated by going multiple times other years.

I saw Ahnen on the stage of the Sadler’s Wells last night. That’s the fifteenth piece I’ve seen in ten years. The dancers feel like some kind of family now, I know all their names, I see their evolution. I notice the newcomers. I’ve been in their trail for so long.

I wouldn’t miss for the world my yearly rendez-vous with the TanzTheater Wuppertal and the spirit of Pina.

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The God Bless You Dunkin’Donuts

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After a long failed day and 3 and a half hours of sofa sleep, I jumped on the F train at 5am with α, direction Coney Island.

We wanted to reiterate the Sunday morning sunrise experience, but actually seeing the sunrise from the beach and not from the highway this time.

It was still dark when we arrived in Coney Island, the fun fair was deadly silent apart from an odd pop music spitting from speakers somewhere. Fun fairs are often scary and depressing but empty fun fairs are scary and exciting. We wanted to jump the fence and sneak in the Ghost House.

We first went in search for coffee to salute the sun with our caffeine intake in the blood. We miraculously found a 24 hour Dunkin’ Donuts. α pushed the door saying “God bless 24 hour!”. The man at the counter was very sweet and slow and we had to explain several times “one everything bagel with cream cheese and one with butter”. He served us and instead of saying thank you or you’re welcome, he was saying “God bless you” in each sentence: “That’s your regular coffee, God bless you”, “One cream cheese bagel, God bless you”, “Here’s your change, God bless you”, “Have a nice day, God bless you”. We named this branch the ‘God bless you Dunkin’ Donuts’.

We walked to the beach and we weren’t sure in which direction to look at to see dawn breaking. I told α : “It is so random where the sun rises”. She looked at me very politely and replied: “Well, technically, it is always east.” I pulled myself together and explained that I have some very specific kind of genius.

While we were waiting for the show with the seagulls, α told me a very good bird story from the time she was living in Delaware in a beach house. After having an argument, she ran to the beach to find some peace of mind. The ocean and the scenery calmed her down, and to enhance this moment of bliss, 2 beautiful white doves flew over and landed close to her. She took it like a sign from the gods and closed her eyes to embrace this instant of plenitude. When she opened her eyes again, the doves had vanished and were replaced, exactly at the same spot, by 2 ugly sick-looking brown seagulls. I peed myself at the anecdote because I thought it sounded like a zen allegory or some wise metaphors from a fortune cookie: ‘You may think you saw a dove but in the blink of an eye a seagull appears.’ How can I ever be depressed with friends like that?

The sun finally rose and we danced and hip-hopped at it, then we walked along the ocean and we talked about having children or not, love patterns, and the Ministry of Silly Walks by the Monty Python.

The ocean was throwing yellow carnations at us. α and I love carnations because of the dance theatre masterpiece ‘Nelken‘ by German choreographer Pina Bausch, our spiritual Mother. It is the first of her pieces that we both ever saw, even before we met each other and before we knew we’d adopt dance theatre as a life style. Pina Bausch is one of the cements of our friendship because we took a very random journey to Wuppertal together to see ‘Kontakthof‘. We were 22 and didn’t know each other very well yet.

So we sat our butt on a rock and I finally showed her the pictures of my pilgrim to Wuppertal last January, when I left a postcard on Pina’s grave signed with our two names.

When our butt was frozen, we took the F train again. α stopped in Brooklyn, I continued to Manhattan to have coffee with β² who was in town only for a day and a half. I haven’t seen him since our Air Waves experience in Reykjavik last year. We met each other in LA last September, then we met again in Iceland a few weeks later, now we have a brief coffee in NYC.

He walked me to the door of the Joffrey Ballet School for my ultimate 5 Rhythms dance class of this chunk of time, and we hugged each other saying: “So, where next?”

I love catching up with people in different places every time.