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

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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.