Although many people I know would strongly disagree, I don’t necessarily think myself as a dancer. I wake up every morning thinking like the electrical engineer my mother was proud of, the one I was until the day I became, ahem, a dancer. A special breed of dancer though, a “bailarin de tango.” Thus, I dance tango because I know how, and I love doing it with a woman in my arms. At the modern dance, contact improvisation and other individual forms of corporal expression arenas, I never had any particular desire to be more than a casual spectator.
At first, the news that choreographer and German dancer Pina Bausch had just died didn’t register, but the unusual buzzing in the Internet news services, the emails from dance organizations, and an article in Clarin.com caught my attention.
Pina Bausch had become one of the largest and influential artists of the 20th century when she felt victim to a fulminating cancer on June 30 at the age of 68 leaving innumerable projects in progress; just the Sunday before she had appeared on stage to take a bow along with her company on the stage of the Wuppertal theater where she premiered all her creations.
She was a young choreographer with an impressive body of works when in 1973, the general director of the Municipal Theater of Wuppertal , a small German city, asked her to take charge of the dance company of the prestigious institution. She was given complete freedom by the general director which allowed her to develop new vocabularies in an entirely personal way. The results of her difficult explorations were initially rejected by the local public and a good part of the members of the dance company.
When the Wuppertaler Tanztheater arrived for the first time to Buenos Aires in 1980, the audiences in Wuppertal were deeply divided regarding the dance company. On the one hand, there was a compact group of admirers; on the other, a front of convinced critics: the most violent spat and showered Pina Bausch with insults, and the most extreme woke her up in the middle of the night with telephone calls asking her to leave the city. But something new was being created, the Tanztheater (“dance theater”), the union of genuine dance and theatrical methods of stage performance; a new, unique dance form (especially in Germany), which, in contrast to classical ballet, distinguished itself through an intended reference to reality.
In the years that followed, to this day, countless artists of the dance and of the theater everywhere have been influenced by the scenic thoughts of Pina Bausch, a performance form that combines dance, speaking, singing and chanting, conventional theater and the use of props, set, and costumes in one amalgam.
Left, a scene from Pina Bausch’s Bandoneon. Right, Guillermo and Fernanda’s use of Pina’s idea
In 1995, Pina returned to Argentina to present her work Bandoneón at Theater San Martin . The response from the audience was overwhelmingly positive. This most beautiful creation cast a smart view on the tango without resorting to a single tango step. At that time, for reasons that are not clear, Pina took some tango lessons with Tete, a hardened resident of the milongas and distinguished enthusiastic dancer. She then invited him to Germany to give lessons to her company.
More puzzling yet is that for unknown reasons neither she nor the Wuppertaler Tanztheater ever returned to Buenos Aires, while regularly traveling to Brazil and in recent years, to Chile. Not being necessarily an expert in these matters, my thoughts this week focus on the loss of two great icnos of the dance, Pina Bausch and Michael Jackson.