Pina Bausch, a genius of dance | Bidisha

The choreographer Pina Bausch was one of the few brilliant artists whose greatness was recognised in their own lifetime

Pina Bausch is dead and I'm pretty fine with it. Fine because for once I and other feminist critics don't have to crank the gears to point out the genius of a creator who was belittled in her lifetime, to argue for more coverage, more exposure, fairer analysis with a tiny little bit of respect thrown into the bargain. Everybody knows Bausch was a genius, a female creator in a discipline in which women have always been great artists, pioneers, founders and figureheads.

Let's save the deep sorrow for Bausch's friends, family, collaborators and dancers, the people who knew her personality and her process from first-hand experience. They are the ones who will really mourn her death, at a relatively young age, so brutally soon after a cancer diagnosis. But surely even they marvel at the rigour and talent of a performer-creator who was onstage in Wuppertal, the town where her company is based, less than a fortnight ago.

I'll admit to one regret: I never got to see her dance in person. I only know that extraordinary shard-like form and expressive Diamanda-Galas-painted-by-Modigliani face from TV and film coverage. When her company arrived at (and sold out) Sadler's Wells last year, I figured I'd catch a look the next time round. And what a look: as a dancer Bausch was as thin, deadly and powerful as a steel bar. I imagined watching it, listening out for the whip-like whistle of sharply displaced air as she moved.

Bausch makes people uncomfortable because of the emotional brutality of her world and her fearlessness in confronting it. Too much honesty can be off-putting. Extremity of emotion is disturbing, bringing nasty truths too close to the surface. Nobody wants to believe that life is not essentially good or nice and that it may be cruel, limiting, unjust, unromantic and formless. Instead some critics look to the edges, the periphery, the set dressing or gimmicks: the clattering wooden tables and chairs of Café Muller, the use of older dancers in Kontakthof, the nice fluffy carnations in Nelken and of course the soil-covered stage of Rite of Spring. Harder to stomach are the emotional confrontations, anger, pain, regret and unfairness exhibited by her performers, coupled with the frightening opacity of her characterisation. One never knows if the relationships being depicted are purely fictional enactments or culled from her or her dancers' own lives. Either way, it cuts close to the bone.

This has all been written hundreds of times before. There is little to say about Pina Bausch, not because her work is slight but because she experienced the happy and successful fate of a truly lucky artist: her greatness was recognised in her lifetime. Her works have completeness, depth and intelligence and have been lauded, deconstructed, honoured and studied with a commitment equal to their worth. Artists, actors, musicians, film directors and of course other choreographers and dancers have been inspired by her. She changed the paradigm. When we think of contemporary dance – either seriously or satirically – it is the tough, exhaustive movements of Bausch's company that come to mind, whether or not we consciously credit her.

It is unfortunate that Bausch's gifts are highlighted at a time when the under-representation of female creators has been commented upon across the dance world. Women's work is not being commissioned, shown, written about or funded enough. Sadler's Wells' autumn programme features newly commissioned work from four male choreographers (Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and his beloved club of all-male dancers, Javier de Frutos, Russell Maliphant and Wayne McGregor), plus work by Matthew Bourne, Akram Khan and Mark Morris. The folks at the South Bank know something's wrong too: this October the choreographers Siobhan Davies and Nelisiwe Xaba are participating in a debate called Where are the women? as part of this year's Dance Umbrella programme.

It is a tragedy that there will be no further works from Pina Bausch. But it's a joy that what remains is so strong, so well-formed, so lacking in juvenilia or missteps. Her death shouldn't curtail her genius, but seal it. Instead of casting a shadow, it should throw a light. Ladies and gentlemen – Pina Bausch.



The GuardianTramp

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