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Água - Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch - World Cities 2012

Pina Bausch
Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch
Barbican

Ensemble in Água Credit: Oliver Look
Regina Advento, Jorge Puerta Armenta, and Anna Wehsarg in Água Credit: Ulli Weiss
Pablo Aran Gimeno in Água Credit: Oliver Look

No postcards from Pina for nearly a week… did we miss her? I did. But here’s video film on a loop instead from Brazil taken in 2001, Água, of the company’s stay in São Paulo. Dappled light on a white floor, a selective dioramic landscape portrait projected across curved white walls against which the dancers blaze and fade, their movement lost in the counterpoint movement of nature on the screen.

City scenes eschewed for the most part, though not entirely—there is film of young men drumming en masse in the favelas—but it is the tropical rainforest canopy, the mighty Amazon, and the spectacular thundering Iguazu falls that entrance. Pina and her dancers have gone native.

Exotic flora and fauna—swaying palm fronds, swaying dancers, hair flowing in the wind, and succulent leaves big enough for a boat and paddle. Jaguars, flamingos, and orangutans... Orangutans in Brazil? Who knew? A bit of licence, but then Pina Bausch is all about taking a bit of tongue-in-cheek licence.

Carefree Yanomani Indian children swim in shoals in the sea, and sophisticates drink cocktails in exclusive hotel bars... natural habitats both. Glamorous women in fabulous gowns groom themselves and their men, and the men, ever attendant, kiss and caress them—the mating game. The smell of love so strong that Aida Vainieri has to put ice cubes on her body.

Regina Advento and Jorge Puerta Armenta signal across the stage to each other with the fairy lights entwining their bodies. Compliments are given and rejected—Cristiana Morganti amusing in her self-demolition. Odd gifts given and received, it’s the thought that counts. Camouflage and exhibition...

White is camouflage too—on a dazzling bright white set Thuselda Mercy and Pablo Aran Gimeno dance their solos dressed in white. And white is a brilliant backcloth for splashes of colour—a drunken beach party on a huge semicircular white sofa arrangement mocks the parade of beauties in beach towel cartoon images, and lifeguards sit atop aluminium ladders.

Brazil a land of enormous variety is shrunk to three hours of kinetic play. And play is at the heart of it. Child-like play and practical jokes—Pablo paddles his canoe, and they all finish in water play under a self-constructed irrigation pipe. Bottles of water are drunk and spouted at each other till they are all soaked through. Striking images and silliness hand-in-hand. Julie Shanahan says she is no good at choreography, so she has to improvise… Pina in self-aware self-parody as always...

Again, a rich tapestry of music underpins the dancing (lots of dancing) and scenario concoction—Brazilian samba rhythms, chill out sounds (“I want you to get together”), and smoky nightclub jazz songs of love and longing. Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Bebel Gilberto (and more—the Brazilian list is long) are joined by David Byrne, PJ Harvey, Leftfield, and Tom Waits ("Walk Away").

And by The Tiger Lillies ("Pretty Lisa": “…her life is just a journey upon a roundabout. Every thing is very pretty until the ride runs out… Tony hits his pretty Lisa but everything is fine. The tattooes hide the bruises every time…”). Life’s a circus - not unlike Pina’s circular compositions.

Light-hearted joie de vivre crosses the footlights, as well as cups of coffee and glasses of coloured drinks. A man in the front row is caught on a hook and hauled in across the stage by Tsai-Chin Yu. A receptive willing audience seems eager to join in the paradise play whatever the consequences.

Like those quirky relatives or friends with traits that can chaff if they stay too long but leave a gap that is impossible to fill when gone, Água, last seen at the 2010 Edinburgh Festival, returns to another obligatory standing ovation.

Reviewer: Vera Liber