In 1997 the German choreographer Pina Bausch took the dancers of her company to Lisbon, to create a piece inspired by the city. The result, Masurca Fogo, is charming, if slight in comparison to Bausch’s earlier and darker creations. The piece is drenched in sunlight; we see back-projections of banana palms, flamingos and the sea. The set, by Peter Pabst, is a sloping formation of black rocks, on which and women arrange themselves as if sunbathing, or as languid spectators of downstage events.
Unlike many of Bausch’s works, Masurca Fogo is infused with pure dance, set to an appealing jazz, blues and fado score. Rainer Behr, Ditta Miranda Jasjfi and Daphnis Kokkinos all have featured solos, in which they seem to be impelled now by their own impulses, now by forces outside themselves. Bodies alternately embrace and defy gravity, hips are loose, arms whirl in a cryptic semaphore.
There’s a mesmerisingly beautiful dance for Regina Advento in which she seems to twitch, float and flutter to the music of her own daydreams. Brazilian-born Advento acts as the psychic axis of Masurca Fogo, gliding across the stage with an enigmatic smile as the other performers trace elliptical paths around her. We see her sashaying through the audience as a street vendor, hips swaying, a water pot balanced on her head. Later, as the other dancers hurl themselves through a frantic routine, we discover Advento luxuriating in a bubble bath, taking advantage of the foam to wash up a stack of plates. Throughout, she is at once intensely present and coolly unreachable.
The piece is studded with Bauschian detail. Rainer Behr makes as if to kiss Julie Shanahan, but she’s too tall for him to reach, so in a lightning-flash critique of male-female relations, another male dancer lifts Behr until he towers over her. Shanahan drops a watermelon, it shatters, and Ruth Amarante brings on a chicken to peck at the bits. A walrus, marvellously realistic, hauls itself effortfully across the stage. These quixotic delights, and the solo dances, illuminate Masurca Fogo.
But generally the piece is thin, and eked out with tired, recycled material. There’s pratfalling and water-spitting, and the inevitable parade of women in flimsy nightwear and high heels. Shanahan appears festooned with balloons, and tells an inconsequential story about her schoolteacher before men light cigarettes and pop the balloons. Nazareth Panadero addresses the audience, talking suggestive and gravelly voiced nonsense. A male performer dresses Advento in a fur jacket, hat and stole. “All the animals I had, died,” Advento tells us, apologetically. Long-term Bausch admirers will have seen these and similar tropes many times before, and in much more resonant contexts. Masurca Fogo is depthless, and over the course of its two-and-a-half-hour duration, strains uncomfortably for effect.
The ending epitomises the piece’s glibness. There’s a penultimate sequence in which the cast, paired into loving couples, lie at the foot of the rocks as a melancholy fado song plays, and waves crash about them. Gradually the stage is flooded with pink, and time-lapse film of flowers unfurling is back-projected to the accompaniment of kd lang singing the Hollies’ song The Air That I Breathe. The result, for me, is suffocatingly kitsch, although judging by the cheers of the capacity audience at curtain-down, others might disagree.