Last Updated on February 13, 2020
Bluebeard. While Listening to a Tape Recording of Béla Bartók’s Opera ‘Duke Bluebeard’s Castle’
If Bartók’s seminal one-act opera ‘Duke Bluebeard’s Castle’ was a horrific insight into the machinations of the Duke, Pina Bausch’s interpretation takes the psychological drama to a new emotional level in her Tanztheater production.
Watching the opera, the terrifying story is all too clear. Judith, the Duke’s young wife, finds herself in a dark castle with seven locked doors. Although Bluebeard is reluctant to do so, Judith persuades him to open each of the doors in turn. Behind every door is a new secret, the final door which Bluebeard had insisted should be kept shut forever, opens to reveal his three former wives, dawn, mid-day and dusk. Judith’s fate is to be his night-wife…
The heritage of Bluebeard is for Bausch is obvious. Pina Bausch’s first choreography was in 1968, Fragmente (Fragments), to music by Béla Bartók and at the time that Bluebeard was created, she was head of Wuppertal Ballet, the company providing dances for Wuppertal Opera. She had studied at Kurt Jooss’ Folkwangschule and joined his Folkwang Tanztheater as a soloist. Jooss himself, a classical ballet dancer and choreographer is widely regarded as being the founder of ‘Tanztheater’ where classical ballet is mixed with theatre, although the term was used by various members of the German expressive dance movement of the early 20th century. Tanztheater is a logical progression of German Expressionism, where audiences are drawn into an emotional staging usually with no specific narrative plot.
This staging of Bluebeard is the first UK performance and a revival of an early masterpiece by Pina Bausch that has been absent from their repertoire for over 25 years as the Bartók estate raised objections to Bausch’s use of the music. Now the music is in the public domain in both Germany and the UK so, led by Bettina Wagner-Bergelt, the work has been revived with the help of Jan Minarik, who created the original role of Bluebeard and Beatrice Libonati who danced Judith from 1978.
The stage is covered with autumn leaves that rustle as the dancers move. The striking white room is bare but for the leaves on the floor, a table with the tape recorder and a white kitchen chair. A man compulsively plays a tape recording with excerpts from Béla Bartók’s short opera, stopping and rewinding the tape in a manner that conveys frustration, depression and self-disgust.
As you might anticipate, Bausch’s Bluebeard uses the score and the story to explore the relationships between men and women. The use of a tape recorder on stage, controlled by the duke provides a theatrical device – he constantly stops and rewinds the tape, in a way that conveys frustration, depression and self-disgust.
Judith is in part, controlled by the duke, in part obsessive and self-abusive. The dancers are joined on stage by other couples, reinforcing their expressions and mirroring their movements. There are references throughout to the original work, most notably at the end when Judith is dressed by Bluebeard in the costumes of all the other women, weighing her down, just as the jewels of his other wives do in the opera.
This work, first performed in 1977 is regarded as one which moved Tanztheater to a new level. Emotionally charged it is still as relevant today and is a not to be missed production.
Wednesday 12 – Saturday 15 February.
Sadler’s Wells, London
020 7863 8000
If you don’t manage to catch this production, Sadler’s Wells is staging an exchange production of Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring – a collaboration between the Pina Bausch Foundation in Germany, Ecole des Sables (Senegal) and Sadler’s Wells. Showing from Sunday 17th to Wednesday 20th May, it’s another chance to see a Pina Bausch work alongside a new work celebrating the lives of Germaine Acogny and Malou Airaudo.
You may also enjoy Onegin, currently showing at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden