|Pina Bausch: Palermo, Palermo, Sadler’s Wells, review|
|Life & Entertainment - Performing Arts|
|Written by news desk - telegraph.co.ukm|
Pina Bausch weavesone of her most compelling works, full of beauty, horror and surreal humour in Palermo, Palermo at Sadler's Wells.
Palermo, Palermo has the most surprising opening of any piece of theatre: the curtains rise to reveal a grey, breeze-block wall blocking the entire width of the stage. There is a long pause in half light. Suddenly, without warning, the wall collapses inwards, filling the stage with rubble and the air with dust.
Its close is equally resonant. Cherry trees are lowered from the flies, trussed in rope. They lie on the floor as a dancer – Daphnis Kokkinos – tells a long story about a fox and some very wily geese, who survive his predations simply by keeping going.
These two images, the one of destruction, the other simultaneously of thwarted hope and eternal survival, are courtesy of the stage designer Peter Pabst who shapes the frame within which Pina Bausch worked. In the two-plus hours of action that unfolds in between, Bausch weaves one of her most compelling works, full of beauty, horror and surreal humour.
Made in 1989, and inspired by the place in its title, the piece has an iron structure. The landscape is one through which the dancers must pick with difficulty, the shape of their movements conditioned by the difficulties underfoot. They seem to be walking through the after-effects of an earthquake, or perhaps through the shattered ruins of post-war Europe, a place Bausch knew well, both in her imagination and in life.
But there is space at the back of the stage, where girls fling themselves into elegant handstands against a golden wall and where Dominique Mercy can quietly stab himself with pasta like a thwarted St Sebastian. At the front too, there is room for men to run like demons, holding one another aloft; or for a woman repeatedly to pick herself up from prone and scramble up a wall, as a bell tolls.
At the close of the first half, the company engage in an elaborate “excuse me”, taking each other’s places in a ferocious chain dance of sharp, cursing gestures and vividly etched gestures; in the second they sway forward in arm-linked lines with apples precariously balanced on their heads, or hop across the width of the stage in a repetitive pattern of movement.
Then there are scenes with words: a sad story from Julie Shanahan about a man who jumps from a roof, a funny one from Nazareth Pandero about pasta which is “all mine”; an extraordinary one where Azusa Seyama screams at Mercy, while making him take a picture and being simultaneously turned on her head while holding a glass of water.
There are scenes without words which speak just as loudly: six pianists on upright pianos hammering out the opening of Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto; a dog eating a picnic; men putting grease in their hair, ready for a night on the town; a girl eating her rings; a woman repeatedly kicking a man until he surrenders all the food he has hidden in his clothes.
Throughout it all, the dancers reign supreme. As this ten-work, five-week, World Cities season nears its end, these are people you feel you have come to know: they are defined by the movements they perform. When Ruth Amarante runs here across the hands of men, or is held, rigid in their crooked feet, I can think too of her flying off a chair in Bamboo Blues and imagine her running across rolling bodies as she will do in Wiesenland; when Shanahan asks Fernando Suels Mendoza to hug her, I see her armless in Viktor, and lost in Nur Du; I watch in my mind’s eye as he feeds the audience in Der Fensterputzer or dances a sorrowful solo in Nefes.
Every single one of them is magnificent, and wonderfully alive. Together with Bausch they have created moments that you carry with you and brood upon. This season has been an enriching and exhilarating ride; with just one work to come, I know I will think about it for a very long time.