Zoi Dimitriou Company; Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch – review

The Place; Barbican theatre, London

In the programme for her new work, You May!, choreographer Zoi Dimitriou announces that she intends to explore the notion of a society "where the old paradigm of 'you can because you must' has been inverted to 'you must because you can'". Inspired by the 1962 French science fiction film La Jetée, and created with the assistance of east Midlands dramaturge Michael Pinchbeck, the piece is a two-hander for Dimitriou and dancer Andrew Graham.

The result illustrates, over the course of a very slow hour, the problematic nature of much conceptual dance. The issue of how the postmodern superego has reversed Kant's categorical imperative and left us stranded in a half-life of compulsive consumption may be of interest to some. It folds neatly enough into the plot of La Jetée, in which scientists in an imaginary dystopia employ time-travel "to call past and future to the rescue of the present". But are either of these strands translatable into dance that begins to reflect their complexity?

Alternating robotic movements and listless falls on a stage dressed with metal poles and balls of gauze by designer Ingrid Hu (a specialist in "ice construction, balloon technology, and rammed earth building"), Dimitriou and Graham address cryptic remarks to the audience. "You may think that I'm a believer, but I'm not the only one," Dimitriou informs us stonily, before signing off with the words "Boom, boom, splash".

Greek-born Dimitriou studied with Trisha Brown in New York and at the Laban Centre in London, and has danced with Siobhan Davies's company, among others. Her work, she says, "is not made out of culture, it creates culture". Well, up to a point. Dimitriou bombards us with verbiage, and clearly knows in her own mind what she's up to, but dance is a physical medium, and the choreography that she offers us is slight and uncommunicative. It's as if, in her desire to associate herself with the intellectual content of her project, she's lost all interest in it as spectacle.

For all the occasional unevenness of her output, that was a mistake that Pina Bausch never made. Nur Du (Only You), inspired by the city of Los Angeles, is the second in her current World Cities season. The three-hour piece unrolls against a backdrop of massive redwood trunks, a setting by designer Peter Pabst that is at once enchanted and sinister. Much looser in construction than last week's Viktor, created a decade earlier, Nur Du also tilts at more obvious targets, such as the cult of youth and the cruelties of the film industry.

"Just imagine, under all these clothes I'm completely naked," Julie Shanahan confides with a desperate, rictus smile, arranging herself on the shoulders of a line of men. As usual in Bausch-world, the men are in formal suits and the women in flimsy evening-wear. There is continual reference to fading looks, loneliness, and self-deception, perhaps the most memorable example being Julie Anne Stanzak's crazed performance as an ageing cheerleader, desperately trying to reprise her old routines.

"I want to keep going until they have to shoot me," says Dominique Mercy, dragged-up like a duchess in a floor-length blue dress and a monocle, and the statement seems appropriate at more than one level. Mercy was one of the original performers of Bausch's Tanztheater Wuppertal in the early 1970s, and now, 40 years later, and following Bausch's death in 2009, he is the company's co-director, loyally steering the venture into the future.

Bausch is unsparing of Hollywood's brainless machismo. We see Regina Advento sitting expressionless in a chair, her hair cut in a neat crop. A man approaches, inflates two green balloons, and stuffs them down her front. Taking a platinum blonde wig, he forces it on to her head, and then paints lipstick all over her mouth. Finally, satisfied that his creation is sufficiently feminine, he leads her off. In another casually brutal tableau, women are lifted from the ground by their hair.

Effective though these vignettes are, there's a lingering sense that much of the anger is manufactured rather than felt, and that this is Bausch on auto-pilot. At more than three hours, Nur Du is far longer than it needs to be. And although it ends with a wonderfully expressive dance for 63-year-old Mercy, the second half accomplishes little beyond reprising the themes of the first. Images linger, nevertheless, and the most effective are those incorporating Pabst's atmospheric set. A scene when the women of the cast vanish into the enfolding darkness of the forest, leaves falling around them, says it all.


Luke Jennings

The GuardianTramp

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