Last Updated on January 10, 2022
Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch returns to Sadler’s Wells with a revival of Kontakthof
The last Pina Bausch live production that we covered at London Unattached was in February 2020, just weeks before lockdown, was Bluebeard. While Listening to a Tape Recording of Béla Bartók’s Opera ‘Duke Bluebeard’s Castle’. That was followed by one of the most evocative streamed performances of the pandemic, a recording on a Senegalese beach of the final rehearsal for one of Pina Bausch’s earlier works entitled Dancing at Dusk: A Moment with Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring – performed by the École des Sables and featuring 38 dancers from 14 African countries. Their world tour was cancelled literally days before the first show. Kontakthof, this year’s work by Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch promises to be just as poignant. From Bluebeard onward, Pina Bausch’s work are montages, taking ideas from her performers’ lives and creating soul-baring and intimate scenes on stage against scenes that often rely on a local, everyday setting.
Throughout her work, some themes recur – human frailty and brutality, the power and the pity of personal relationships (particularly between men and women), the blind force of desire and the desperate veneer of normality (she often dresses her performers in formal gowns and suits, representing a shiny layer of convention). From Bluebeard (1977) onwards, Bausch abandoned development and progression: all her subsequent pieces are loose, unpredictable montages of scenes, strung together by free association. As she began to work more with ideas drawn from her performers’ personal lives, soul-baring confession came to dominate the choreography. She developed a methodology where she’d ask each of the dancers to express an idea in response to her questioning, either in words or dance which formed the base of the final work.
Created and performed at the Tanztheater Wuppertal in their 1978/9 season and premiered at Sadler’s Wells in 1982, Bausch’s Kontakthof evokes longing and misguided desires. Sets and costumes are by Rolf Borzik, her lover who died a year later at the age of just 35. The piece is brought to life by a group of mature dancers, playing out first encounters, courtship and uncertain romance. “Kontakthof,” means “courtyard of contact”. Men and women meet in a cheerless dance hall for nearly three hours of romantic encounters. It’s regarded as one of the most important pieces in Pina Bausch’s repertoire and was created when she was already established with a growing reputation in the world of dance. During her life, the work was performed in different forms. Kontakthof – Mit Damen und Herren ab 65 (with dancers over 65) was first performed in the year 2000, while Kontakthof – Mit Teenagern ab 14 (with teenagers over 14) was performed the year before her death, in 2008. The music, a collection of popular songs and pieces from the early to mid 20th century, quirky love songs, tangos and ragtime, makes for a playlist of music popular in the 1930s.