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 Pina Bausch Series – Episode #3: The Audition

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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