The last time Pina Bausch and Tanztheater Wuppertal came to town, they performed the glorious Nelken. Before the show, the curtains were left open to reveal a stage covered in upright carnations that would end up pummeled and smashed flat by the end of the performance. The dancers, both male and female, struggled with their costumes -- dingy, light pink slips with thin shoulder straps falling and skirts threatening to rise -- while they told bawdy stories of love and loss and created stunning tableaux by combining simple props in unexpected combinations. When they danced, the movement was downright LUSTY. Nelken was as close to perfect as performance art can get.
Bausch's latest creation, Ten Chi (Next Time), is more like a series of postcards from Japan. Written and performed by THIS group of German tourists, these postcards feel more like tone poems, fragmented descriptions of surreal dreams, scenes from German cabaret and alternately funny or puzzling bits of vaudeville. Ten Chi lacks the cohesiveness of Nelken, but contains enough surprising sights and sounds to make it worth the trip.
Pina Bausch is a bit of a cut up. She creates an expansive collage out of items both obvious and obscure and then stands back and comments on the creation (and the experience of creation) with wit and a broad sense of humor. Alternately puzzling, poetic or laugh-out-loud funny, images arise from a stage mysteriously populated by a whale fin and eventually covered in a snowstorm of cherry blossoms. There is a generous helping of food and sex, birds and fish, Japanese hand gestures, kabuki, "kimono, bonsai, samurai," Polynesian dance movement and even Japanese horror film. It's like watching the ebb and flow of the ocean to see what will wash up on the beach.
What I loved about Bausch and company's approach is that they didn't try to create something that would seem Japanese. They remain thoroughly European throughout, adding Japanese gestures to their movement, as if to prove they have been to Japan and have observed. Their purpose in going was to skim the surface and bring it back to the workshop to analyze their own thoughts and feelings about it. These tourists knew that they would end up the attraction.
Runs through Sunday, November 18, 2007 at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley. For tickets and information visit calperfs.berkeley.edu.