contributed by Sarah Roche
Someone once told me that watching ballet was like reading a narrative and watching modern or contemporary dancer was like reading poetry. “Let the images and metaphors of the dance wash over you”. Similarly, I’ve heard the lovely analogy that watching a contemporary dance show is like stepping into a bath. Immerse yourself into the images and aesthetics of the piece and after, step out and let it drip off. (Some pieces are too hot or cold for me to immerse myself fully). Notice what sticks. Notice if anything has been absorbed.
A night with Pina Bausch’s Vollmond performed by Tanztheater Wuppertal artists was a bath to remember. I had the privilege to be at the NAC in Ottawa last weekend on Nov. 8th and for nearly two and a half hours I soaked in powerful images of love and relationships. The overall aesthetics of this piece were so satisfying that I found myself able to sit back and enjoy, be provoked and captured into moments of laughter, pain, urgent desire and playful pleasure.
The piece title translates to ‘full moon’. The set, as many will recognize from the 2011 film Pina, consists of a giant lunar-like rock upstage left. It sits in what the audience soon learns is a river of water that is permanently contained to the whole width of a panel three quarters up the stage. Camouflaged to look like any other panel, it is a playful surprise to hear feet splash through for the first time. The surprise continues and becomes all the more exciting once invisible clouds open and rain pours over the river for a great length of the piece. The moon pushes and pulls the tides and so water is a powerful and prominent element of the piece. Water, a metaphor for so many ideas, was explored in a variety of ways. I viewed the water in the panel as a river of life or a river of love. At times dancers were floating down stream, humorously swimming one after the other, splashing wildly and diving in or being dragged though. I understood that we all do those things in love too- flail wildly, freely dance in the rain, hold on tight to someone dragging us along. I was flooded with images as the piece unrolled in scene after scene. At certain points I chose to only watch the beauty of water droplets flying like fireworks in the lights. At another time I was reminded of Peggy’s Cove and the tumultuous Atlantic Ocean spray against the rocks. The use of props and set was masterful and I have yet to mention the dancers!
The accomplished cast of six men and six women ranged in age but all were mature, adept performers giving nothing less than a first-rate show. They were dressed and paired in classic male and female roles – dress pants and shirts for men, strapless gowns with cascading long hair for women. They shared dominance at different times and at some point they all executed electric movements that could be described as a clear flailing, in articulate speed, with wild, yet precise gestures. But they didn’t just move. They spoke to one another. In one instance we witnessed a woman helping a man to improve his speed of unfastening a bra. They spoke to us, the audience. At one moment a woman walked the stage, tracing each step with chalk so her feet looked enormous and she gave the advice that one way to defend yourself is to make yourself bigger. Another woman cried a wrenching scream, “I wait, I wait, I wait, yes, yes, I wait I wait…I cry, I cry…” as she clenched her fists along her body. Near the beginning, one woman mentioned seeing pink, and I thought, ‘perhaps I am watching with rose coloured glasses’. I was so excited sitting in my center stage seat of the amphitheater, quite far up, but center stage view none the less. And I knew, before anyone even entered the stage, that this was going to be a night to remember.
Indeed, it was a deliciously artistically pleasing night. “A piece like a pagan ritual full of a lust for life and for dance,” that is what the program said. I agree. I experienced love from all angles, water from playful to chaotic, and master artists at work. I enjoyed it so much I bought my very first dance show soundtrack…it’s brilliant!