Thursday, 2 February 2017

Pina- Pushing a pin into it


The work of Pina Bausch and the Tanztheater Wuppertal has had a profound impact on my work as both an artist and a teacher. If you haven't seen anything of their work, then watching the 2011 film Pina is a jaw-dropping, heart-awakening place to start.

Among so many of her ideas and principles there is one that particularly stands out and continues to define my idea of performance- the idea of evocative images instead of illustrative.

Bausch wasn't your average choreographer, with a pre-planned vision of every piece she made. The work was driven by the dancers in the Wuppertal, by their thoughts, feelings, expressions.

There's a great section in Royd Climenhaga's book on Bausch where he references a time while she was working on the piece Walzer (1982). Bausch asked the company to explore the idea of a display in a natural history museum.

"In museums you can see where they collect animals, stuffed animals. You can see how they are preserved and how they stand there, the animals. or with insects, how they mount them so that people can look at them. An ensemble member questions, Do you want us to put it into words? and Bausch responds, No, I want you to do it, or do it to someone."
 (Was Tun Pina Bausch und Ihrer Tanzer in Wuppertal? 1983)

Climenhaga goes on to explain that Bausch wants to capture the pain of being mounted by a pin, or perhaps the discomfort of viewing such animals mounted in that way. She doesn't want her performers to recreate the image, it's too literal. You can imagine some novice students making the same mistake as some of her ensemble members back in '82 they tried to re-create the moment by pinning one of the others to the wall, and often we see students translate a prompt such as this into similarly literal expressions.

She wanted her ensemble to understand that  "It tells us about the feeling, but it doesn't give it to us. It's illustrative rather than evocative." She doesn't want to create an experience "where we may say "Ah, I get it, it's like animals in a natural history museum," because then you either get it or you don't, but in either case the image stops there, once the connection has been made."

(Climenhaga, Royd. 2009. 'Pina Bausch.' Routledge Performance Practitioners: 111-113)

This principle of "Don't show me the feeling. Give me the feeling!" is critical when devising work to have impact. It's turns one-dimensional scenes upon which the audience is but voyeur, into an opportunity for us to make our own connections and to experience the piece for ourselves.

If you don't know the work of Pina Bausch and would like to know more, then the film is a great introduction which you can follow up with Royd Climenhaga's detailed guide on her work. The book also includes many practical exercises to get your students creating in the same ways as the Wuppertal. Finally, although Pina sadly passed away in 2009, Tanztheater Wuppertal still performs many of her pieces all around the world, so if you can get to see it live, I would highly recommend it.


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