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 Emotion Extinguisher

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I saw a dance-theatre piece by Pina Bausch on Wednesday, called “Auf dem Gebirge hat man ein Geschrei gehört” (‘On the mountain a cry was heard’).

Out of the 14 pieces by Pina Bausch that I’ve seen, this one was the most violent towards women. It is a beloved theme of the choreographer. Of course. She was observing people trapped like insects in the fish tank of human condition and putting that material straight from the theatre of life to the stage of a theatre. It is disturbing when what is happening on stage is barely an allegory.

Men were grabbing women, assaulting and torturing them. In return, women were yelling and struggling for their life and freedom, drowning in a thick layer of earth. It left me breathless with a strange yet familiar discomfort in the core of my body.

There is a recurrent scene throughout the piece where a group of men chase a girl and capture her to force her into kissing a man. It’s the most eloquent metaphor of marriage and hetero-normativity I’ve ever seen embodied. Absolutely brilliant. It acted on me like a real catharsis. It dig up emotions I attempt real hard to bury. I’m forever grateful to Pina Bausch to stage my feelings so I can flush them out at the theatre once a year.

I’ve built myself around a very strong implicit rule: “SUPPRESS YOUR EMOTIONS”. (“And even if you happen to feel something, don’t express it as much as possible, because they will use it against you”.)

There was no space for emotion in the household where I grew up. There was no space for emotion as a student. There is no space for emotion at work or in almost any of my human relationships. There was no space for emotion anywhere I’ve been apart from the theatre and the dance floor. My flow is well contained, in a determined square within a public place at fixed hours.

It remains a bottomless taboo for me to expose to my entourage “I’m desperate/sad/angry/scared”. Who cares?

All my life, I had to be in constant action. Emotion immobilises you because it is energy and thought consuming. I don’t want to be disturbed. I’ve therefore disciplined myself to be an expert at extinguishing my emotions as soon as fire breaks out on my inside. I am a firewoman to my own vulnerability. Vulnerability grosses me out. It always did.

A mysterious force has been slowly taking over me, though. Since the turn of the new year. Since Í guided me super gently into new erotic paths.

Something has been awaking in my core in the last months. An awareness that my body and emotions have always been disconnected. I have been gauging my unexplained split, my disability at being emotional in the intimate.

OK. I take infinite pride in fucking without feelings, because as a girl, it still shocks people and I find that particularly empowering (and funny). But even when I thought I was making love, I realise that I wasn’t. Feels like I wasn’t that present to myself or the other after all. Where was I? Lost somewhere on the queer activism field singing a sex-positive manifesto such as “Every time we fuck, we win”? I always had things to prove or a revolution to make.

What about my physical, spiritual and cerebral sensations?

Something’s warming up inside me. I will take a new turn soon, I will finally embrace something beautiful. What contour will it have? Everything is open.

I started 2015 in a strange way. My therapist explained me that the reason why the body and emotions would split so heavily is that a trauma happened. It took me a moment to understand what she actually implied. I fought the idea for as long as I could.

My first ever male attraction, which I’ve been experiencing for almost a year now, has been bringing up memories to the surface of my skin, triggering waves of odd images and hidden desires. I have been profoundly disturbed since our last encounter.

I don’t know if I will ever know for sure, but I am taming the thought that this revelation might be right.

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Auf dem Gebirge hat man ein Geschrei gehört by Pina Bausch – Picture by Uwe Schinkel