BWW Reviews: KONTAKTHOF - The Legendary Tanztheater Wuppertal-Pina Bausch Returns to BAM
The art of the Tanztheater Wuppertal- Pina Bausch is one of harmony in contradiction; everyday experiences become theatrical poetry. With thoughts continually arriving on the coattails of emotions, Bausch's work transcends the mechanical division between "political-art" and "emotional-art" to create an accurate landscape of humanity. Now at BAM, the 1978 work Kontakthof presents the choreographer's most direct discussion of her core topic, male-female courtship.
The performers, clad in suits for the men and plainly colored 1950s dresses for the ladies, stand in a photorealistic dancehall, as designed by Rolf Borzik. Within this soon-to-be Freudian rehearsal studio, the individual performers meld into interchanging couples. They combine their unique romantic desires into fascinating chemistries.
In their first movement, performers march downstage to clinically present their bodies to the audience. This opening declares the body's basic evolutionary design for a singular purpose, wooing. Facing the audience, but apathetic their scrutiny, the performers exhibit their evolutionarily alluring features (teeth, hair, posture, etc.), proving them to be a sustained factor of attraction. Once established as bodies with inherent romantic baggage, the performers relinquish their personal longings on one another. This simple introduction recognizes the ensemble to be composed of unique physical forms and interior spirits, and makes more subtle textures tactile through the rest of the piece.
The artistic core of the performance is found not in any one dimension but rather in composition. The moment to moment transitions are equally present and are equal in their embodiment of the subject matter as the space transforms with the fluidity of a dream state. The artistic genius of the work is not found in any single action but in this compositional placement and performative delivery. The music, 1930s standards, is placed with the same deliberate exactness as the clicking shoes on the floor, and the reverberations of a performer cooing "darling" through the hall. The embodiment of this range among the performers is astounding as they gracefully navigate an evolving social landscape and a vast conceptual spectrum from the tender to the masochistic.
Rather than wonder if a moment ought to make them weep or laugh, the audience of a Tanztheater Wuppertal performance senses how the moment affects them personally. This can often render an individual to stand apart from the crowd in their emotional reaction to what's passing on the stage. In this way, unlike other meditative works, Kontakthof is perhaps most effective with a vocal audience. One image, in which a performer sobs to the folk song "Bring Back My Bonnie," was greeted with laughter from the audience, while I found pure tragedy.
I do not suggest walking into a Tanztheater Wuppertal performance blind or, at the very least, with no expectation about the impending experience. Similar to walking a marathon, the work isn't as arduous to traverse as it is daunting in scope. If one happens to drift during the performance, it does not indicate the performance having failed them, or themselves the performance, but should be received as part of their personal experience in the theatre.
Often imitated and seldom matched, Bausch created a breathing piece of theatre which survives her with by her exquisite company. A living work, Kontakthof is not a historiographic experience but a vital entity which exists on the stage it inhabits. The performer's poetic exaltation of pedestrian action forces new recognition of human interaction. Kontakthof is a social dreamscape in which the audience finds shock in the familiar and understanding in distortions.