Marcela Benvegnu

Tanztheater Wuppertal: mind-blowing, as usual

Tanztheater Wuppertal
Sep. 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24
Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) 30 Lafayette Ave, Brooklyn
“Café Müller” (1978) and “The Rite of Spring” (1975) choreographed by Pina Bausch
Reviewed by Marcela Benvegnu September 19, 2017


Café Müller” (1978), Pina Bausch masterpiece. Photo by Stephanie Berger (BAM)

Silence. The audience stops to talk and it seems that everybody breathes at the same time and rhythm. With a sold-out season and a big line for standby tickets on the street, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) presented the Tanztheater Wuppertal for a double bill in their Next Wave Festival with 1970’s masterpieces by Pina Bausch (1940-2009): “Café Müller” (1978) and “The Rite of Spring” (1975). Tanztheater Wuppertal had made its New York debut at BAM in 1984, performing exactly these pieces.

On stage, more than 40 chairs and eight tables are placed randomly. A door opens and Breanna O’Mara appears for her premiere in "Café Müller.” Barefoot, arms outstretched, this sleepwalking woman starts to move and our eyes stay completely glued on her. She is a stunning dancer and her biotype remind us of Pina, who used to perform in the same role.

She dances sometimes in the wall, sometimes with her shadow revealing loneliness. O’Mara has a very special quality of movement. When she is performing, everything is so connected that you cannot find the beginning or the ending of the sequences.

Repetition, manipulation and exhaustion in the main trio ; Photo by Stephanie Berger (BAM)

"Café Müller" is one of the most famous autobiographical Pina Bausch pieces with Henry Purcell’s music (“The Fairy Queen” and “Dido and Aeneas”). The Café refers to Pina’s family’s restaurant where she did her first performances - and it brings to the stage feelings of darkness and loss.

Some of the sequences show us repetition, manipulation and exhaustion as the main trio - a woman and two man - where the female dancer is manipulated all the time. A kiss. One male dancer manipulates the other r to hold the ballerina. They hug. She falls down. He comes back to repeat the same movements again. A kiss. The dancer manipulates the other to hold the ballerina. They hug. She falls down. He comes back to repeat the same movements again, but now faster, and then, faster, and faster and it changes completely the dramaturgy of the scene and the feelings that it transmits.

Rite of Spring: rereading of the Vaslav Nijinsky in special way. Photo by Stephanie Berger (BAM)

At the end, on stage, we can just see a pair of shoes left by a lady who came to the Café to search for her keys. It’s important to say that the “lady” is Nazareth Panadero, that perform this piece for more than 30 years. In this dance the audience is suspended scene by the scene, by the revelations of the endings and beginnings of life, where we are all lost, doing the same things tight to our feelings and waiting to wake up from our own “café.”

“Café Müller” is almost always presented with "The Rite of Spring". Two pieces with completely different forces, which shows the power of Pina, one of the most important choreographers of the 20th Century.

In Pina’s "The Rite of Spring,” a rereading of the Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950) work created in 1913 for the Ballet Russes with music by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), the stage is completely redesigned. During the intermission the technical crew performs another show as they change the set with an open curtain. It is really impressive how they are on time, preparing an earth-covered stage, measuring if it is in the right place, plowing. It is another ballet. The audience blows up in applause.

Tanztheater Wuppertal at BAM in 1984, performing exactly these pieces. Photo by Stephanie Berger (BAM).

The encounter between movement and music in “Rite” fits perfectly. The 32 dancers onstage (16 women and 16 men) seems to be in a trance. Pina’s “Rite” brings the idea of a tribe and it’s rituals, where a woman needs to be sacrificed to gratify the misogyny of the men. Tsai-Chin Yui – who joined Tanztheater in 2008 and is from Taiwan - is this dancer. Her end-solo performance is like a magnet. She is completely connected to herself and her emotions are palpable. The audience is on stage too, connected with her, feeling the pain of the convulsion death.The strength of Rite is in each dancer, but also in how Pina divided the piece. You see the softness of the woman’s group, you feel the fearless and burliness of the man’s and also the contrast when they are together.

The helm of the program and of Tanztheater Wuppertal is now in the hand of Adolphe Binder - she was director of the GoteborgsOperan Danskompani - who assumed the German company last May, after three artistic directors: Dominique Mercy, Robert Sturm and Lutz Förster. They ran the Company after Pina’s death and had connections as dancers with the group.

What really matters is that Tanztheater Wuppertal continues to be one of the most remarkable dance companies in the world, with Pina's memory seemingly alive in the flesh. Mind-blowing, as usual.


Marcela Benvegnu is a journalist and dance researcher. She has Master's Degree in Media and Global Communications from University of California (2017), Communication and Semiotics (2007) from Pontificia Universidade Catolica (PUC-SP) and Dance Studies from Universidade Federal da Bahia (2004). She was the Communications and Education Coordinator of São Paulo Dance Company (Brazil) from 2010 to 2017. She has been co-director of International Jazz Dance Congress in Brazil since 2009. She gives dance lectures, works as a juror in festivals and writes about dance in books and on different communications platforms.



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