When Pina Bausch died in 2009 it seemed unthinkable that her company would go on without her, such was the groundbreaking, guru-like choreographer’s singularity. Clearly her company thought so too. While they continued to perform her works around the world, it was nine years before they commissioned anyone to make a new full-length work.
And here it is, by Greek choreographer Dimitris Papaioannou – a huge Bausch fan since he saw her Café Müller aged 19, and a great fit for the company. Since She opens with a tribute of sorts: a procession of dancers walking on chairs, just like the ones used in Café Müller. There is something slightly uncanny about the way the piece is so recognisably the work of Tanztheater Wuppertal, and of Papaioannou too. Both have a line in dreamlike weirdness, incidents and interactions taken out of their contexts to create an absurdist “other” world, but one that cuts close to the bone.
Papaioannou, who trained in fine art, is interested in manipulating materials as well as bodies. The set is a tall pile of foam mats, looking like a slate mountain, for the often semi-naked dancers to slither down. We see long tubes threaded through a man’s trousers forcing him to scuttle like a multi-legged beast, and a woman’s dress pierced with arrows.
There are arresting moments, including a wonderful scene in which Ophelia Young is carried atop a table that’s being spun in circles while she magically stays in one place, still but for the wind through her hair, radiant and regal like the figurehead of a ship.
Papaioannou’s imagination and love of illusion can be fanciful, almost vaudevillian, but here there is a nagging sense of the degrading or unseemly beneath. (I won’t even tell you what Azusa Seyama bakes into a pie.) We see transformation and repetition, flirtation and manipulation, and people making simple tasks, or the route from A to B, way more difficult than they need to be – all very Bauschian metaphors for life. There are so many clever moments, but the heart and humour wane, leaving a desolate stage. Perhaps Papaioannou’s approach is too reverent. Or this time the alchemy just didn’t quite take.
Since She is at Sadler’s Wells, London, until 17 February. Tanztheater Wuppertal perform Bon Voyage, Bob at the same venue, 22-25 February.