A woman in a flowery shift runs about the stage cradling in her arms a stupendously placid brown hen. A tall willowy blonde sashays in on very high heels carrying a watermelon that shatters as she drops it. The hen is allowed to feast on it and does so with great alacrity.
While this is going on a younger woman, long black hair flowing, rushes to climb onto a man’s shoulders and proceeds to throw herself into the waiting arms of a group of other men. Repeatedly.
Welcome to organised mayhem, a sure sign that Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch is in town to the delight of its legions of fans.
Playing to sold out houses at Sadler’s Wells, this time round the company brought one of Pina Bausch’s more light-hearted pieces, Masurca Fogo (Fiery Mazurca).
The result of a sojourn in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, where they had been invited by Expo 98 to make a new piece, Masurca Fogo reflects the company’s fascination with the city’s mixture of European, African and Brazilian culture, the modern day vestiges of its colonial past.
They were enthused, too, by the sun-drenched streets and the Latin abandon of its inhabitants.
The stage for Masurca Fogo is, therefore, mostly bathed in a dazzling white light. The set is simple and hugely versatile. At the back there’s a rocky outcrop, which designer Peter Pabst describes as looking “as if lava had flown in.” Behind it a huge screen allows for video projections, be they a train journey across the capital, a flock of giant flamingos, or, to fantastic effect, the roaring waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
Onto the stage the dancers bring a variety of props for their sketches. There is no narrative as such, only little vignettes inspired by their surroundings. In one, a huge swimming pool is created within a long plastic sheet help up by two dancers and filled with water by a few others, who then proceed to slide and splash about with yelps of delight.
In another, a primly protective Portuguese mother overfeeds her grown-up son, who’s joined at the table by a couple totally immersed in their very own private party.
What all these sketches have in common is that they subvert all our expectations, often - but not always - to hilarious effect.
In between, these extraordinary dancers - and make no mistake, they really are very good dancers, entirely steeped in Pina Bausch’s unique ways even after her death - have their own solos or duets or more rarely ensemble pieces.
The dancing is of the highest quality.
If there is an overarching theme to this work it’s lust, love, loss and the kind of untranslatable soulful yearning that permeates Lisbon’s very own song form, the fado. A couple of fados are part of the eclectic score, that includes music from Cape Verde, Brazilian carnival beats, jazz and plaintive torch songs.
As is often the way with works by Pina Bausch, it does go on a long time, but in the end - miraculously! - it all coalesces into a very affecting whole, gently inviting us to take a deeper look into the core of our relationships and desires as humans.
For more on the genesis of Masurca Fogo see Dominique Mercy: The Legacy of Pina Bausch
|What||Pina Bausch: Masurca Fogo|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
09 Feb 17 – 12 Feb 17, 19:30 Sun mat 16:00 (ends 18:30)
|Website||Click here to book via Sadler's Wells|