Art Inspiration: Pina Bausch's Cafe Müller and Rite of Spring at Brooklyn's BAM

Being a dancer and having once lived in Berlin while interning for the Staatsballett Berlin and Tanztage dance festival, I have always been greatly inspired by the works of legendary dancers and worldly choreographers like Pina Bausch. Although dance is such a different form of creative expression in comparison to jewelry, I believe that the creative process is similar and can always offer a new perspective in which to be inspired by. Up until this point I had never had the opportunity to see any of her pieces performed live, only video and bits of choreography here and there. On Saturday night I was lucky enough to be able to see two of Bausch’s most iconic works performed live, Cafe Müller and The Rite of Spring. Both pieces debuted in New York in 1984 at BAM, Brooklyn’s Academy of Music. Nearly three decades later, Tanztheater Wuppertal made their way back for a re-staging of the works and it was a packed house.

Pina choreographed and performed Cafe Müller for the first time in 1978 with her company at the Opernhaus Wuppertal. The piece is inspired by Pina’s childhood memories of her father working his cafe in Germany following World War II. The work features six dancers, three men and three women, weaving their way in and out of piles of black cafe furniture strewn throughout the space. At times the movement is fluid, at times rapid and repetitive. There seems to be a strong theme of trust between the dancers. One moving furniture and clearing the way for another, lifting one another’s weight and holding one another in comfort and protection. In other parts of the piece it’s clearly the opposite where there’s manipulation and aggression between the dancers. The feeling I experienced throughout was an uneasiness, a feeling of continuously being on edge not knowing what to expect next. I interpreted the piece to be about the dynamics of relationships. The dancer who danced the part originally performed by Pina seemed to be almost a reflection of the interactions between the dancer’s, almost like an inner representation of emotions. She also seemed to resemble a ghost floating against the far right of the stage careful not to make any prominent movements to distract.

The Rite of Spring was choreographed in 1975, music written by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky originally as a classical ballet. The stage opens to an earth covered floor, female dancers appearing in nude dresses, men in black pants, filling the stage one by one. There was an organic nature to the work as the dancers rushed past one another, hugged one another, and sometimes moved in a frenzied unison as if an impending disaster was on their hands. The dancers intentional gasps and sighs were outpourings of panic, exhaustion, and fear. Their movements were powerful and dramatic as they rolled through the dirt, shook in nervousness or moved in choppy bold movements as if to protect themselves. At the climax of the piece each female dancer presents herself sheepishly with a red dress, the Chosen One to be dressed in it and sacrificed to gratify the misogyny of the surrounding men. The male who chose her reacts almost emotionlessly on the contrary to the chosen female who is almost destroyed by the emotional turmoil of her victimized role. It’s almost as if the dress is slowly burning through her to her core. By the end of the piece the dancers are covered in sweat and dirt, panting from exhaustion. The work is extremely raw and incredibly intense yet relatable in human nature.

What I love most about Pina’s work is the complexity of emotion she brings to each piece in yet a very organic and minimal form. The minimalism and purity in her work I can certainly relate to my own. The way her pieces come together is in almost an effortless manner, like a painting, each part falling into place exactly as it should be. Pina was known for her ability to bridge modern dance with symbolist theater. Her work was monumental for her time and many artists continue to be inspired by her legacy. Seeing her work live really is an all engaging experience and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is lucky enough to have the opportunity. For me the experience was unforgettable. 

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