The Pina Bausch Series – Episode #2: Wuppertal

 Schwebebahn

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.

 Zollverein

Advertisements

The Pina Bausch Series – Episode #3: The Audition

Pina2

In 2006, upon my return from Wuppertal, I applied for the entrance exam at the Folkwang Hochschule in Essen – the University of the Arts where Pina was the director of the dance department.

One day, I received a letter in German, which I speak well enough to understand that I was invited to their auditions in July, right before my 23rd birthday.

It was the summer when Germany hosted the World Cup. There was a heat wave, both in the climate and in the atmosphere. I remember sweating days and nights. It’s been among the most intense few days of my life. I’ve never been under such adrenaline. I had randomly booked a hostel called “Goal Fever” and the name didn’t strike me until I found 2 hooligan-looking dudes sleeping in my supposingly female-only dorm. I had a moment of panic. Something as intense as climbing the Everest was expecting me, and I had to focus. No time for drunken football drama. Thank God, England was soon eliminated and all the guests went home. I was almost completely alone in the property. I remember rehearsing late at night in the empty corridors. Awesome feeling.

There were three rounds of audition held by some of the legendary dancers of Pina Bausch – Malou Airaudo, Dominique Mercy and Lutz Förster among others – with a call back the day after for those who had made the cut at the end of each day.

There were ballet and contemporary classes every day, improvisation, and répertoire. We learned excerpts from The Rite of the Spring so the jury could gauge how percussive our energy was. Malou Airaudo – the Goddess who was in the original cast of the piece – was demonstrating the movements. I had to really focus to pick them up quickly, just because I wanted to indulge into watching the beauty of the mythical dancer without having to worry about getting the choreography right. I have to say that it felt quite natural to my angry nature to incorporate that piece. I will forever regret That I never worked with Pina directly, even one single time.

I made it to the last round together with 34 other dancers. The final round took place the day after France got qualified for the World Cup finale, so dancers and football players were all kinda on the same boat.

At the end of a very intense day of audition, they called the 18 names who had won their entrance ticket to the School. I wasn’t one of them. It was the worst disappointment of my life. I left the studio right after and I headed to the airport to fly back.

I started crying on the bus and it lasted for three days. A huge German lady grabbed me to give me a hug without asking. I started crying in her arms and I was feeling like a ridiculous dwarf. I created a movement of curiosity and compassion throughout the city of Essen that day, because I was crying super hard everywhere I was going. I sat in front of the station, waiting for the bus to the airport, and I triggered an unprecedented solidarity drive. I am smiling when I look back at this episode.

Random people were handing me tissues, candies, cigarettes. Someone asked if they should call the police or if it was just a boyfriend issue. I didn’t try to explain that the person who broke my heart in a thousand pieces was a famous choreographer in her 60s. Why are you always supposed to be desperate over a boy when you are a cute blondie? I only articulated one explanation in German: “My life is over!”

I was so messed up that when I finally got to the airport, I didn’t recognise anything. I asked a nice lady at the info desk. She confirmed my awful impression. I was at the wrong airport. I had stopped crying for a moment because I was completely dried out, but there was apparently an unexpected reserve of water inside me, so I collapsed on the counter and cried more. The nice lady gave me a cake. Germans are awesome, they always carry a bunch of food in their handbag just in case they need to cheer up strangers.

I failed my audition and missed my plane on the same day. I didn’t know anyone in town so I went back to the completely deserted hostel to spend the night. There wasn’t even a staff member when I left early in the morning. I finally made my way back home completely spaced out. I was so depressed the following days that I even ate a hamburger in front of the World Cup finale. I am a vegetarian and I was eating steak when Zidane hit Materazzi with his head. What a disastrous evening.

Because I am fucking stubborn, I tried the entrance exam again the year after. This time, I didn’t even make the first cut. They knew they didn’t want me. I was tempted to do the whole crying scenario again but I kept it minimal. I sobbed a little in a café and a lovely couple proposed me something to eat. Hahahahaha.

Two girls entered the café and walked at me. They were students of the dance school and they watched the auditions. They asked me how it went today. I said that I was out. They said they remembered me from the year before and that they didn’t understand why I hadn’t got in, because from their perspective, I had the profile the school was looking for. They kept saying “Komisch, komisch!” (“Bizarre, bizarre”). They were so sweet. They told me in German: “We want to tell you that we are big fans of yours. Please keep dancing!!!”

I remembered that story a few days ago in front of a dance performance. Oh girls, I fucked up. That’s the story of my life. I get in where I don’t fit and I don’t get in where I fit.

My life is not over, though. Right?

.Pina

The Pina Bausch Series – Episode #5: The Pilgrimage

IMG_0087IMG_0048IMG_0061IMG_0063IMG_0057 IMG_0082IMG_0041 IMG_0019

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.