nytheatre.com review by David Johnston
December 10, 2006
I have never seen a Pina Bausch piece. I have never been to Turkey. But I saw Talk to Her, a Pedro Almodovar movie, and was struck by an excerpt from a Bausch dance. In it, women with their eyes closed move blissfully around a room full of chairs. Men move constantly, following the women, and shifting all objects out of their way. They never take their eyes off the women; they just run around moving the furniture. They never even try to wake them. I was struck by this—these men, so intent on protecting these sleeping beauties, the women moving about as if they were unconscious. If you have seen the movie, you know this tells you a lot about the characters. So, when I had the opportunity to see Nefes, the new Pina Bausch dance-theatre piece, I jumped. I wanted to see more work from this woman who shut her eyes and ran into the furniture.
Nefes (Turkish for "breath") was created by Bausch and 30 dancers in her company, after three weeks in Istanbul in 2002. It's Bausch's valentine to a "city of water," built on an earthquake fault, a city where East and West run headlong into each other. I don't know how accurate a picture Nefes is of Istanbul. But I found Nefes astonishing and beautiful. Nefes achieves what all theatre should aim for—it transports you. Every element—the music, the movement, the color, the light—is pure pleasure. To see this piece is to be ravished by a master who knows what you need and gives it up in spades.
In the wake of the Iraq War and Muslim conflicts around the world, one might expect any theatre piece about the Islamic world to reflect the current situation. Turkey is, after all, a predominantly Muslim country, albeit a secular one up for membership in the European Union. But Nefes is not about politics or wars or religious conflict. Bausch is interested here in the things that are just as important—how individuals love, live, celebrate, drink, seduce, and survive. And in Nefes these people thrive. Even the washerwoman is getting it on.
Nefes is filled with images that seduce the eye, full of tenderness and humor. One young man moves as if he's tearing himself apart, before charging into a pool and dancing ecstatically in a waterfall. Another woman—big, raw-boned, earthy, and dressed in a flowing orange gown—enters between two shirtless men and announces "They can cook so well!" Then she opens herself up to us and moves with abandon. She's Anna Magnani as modern dancer. A small, delicate girl leaps into her partner's arms and curls up like a child under the crook of his neck. A man thrashes about, beating himself in the head, until a bevy of beautiful women surround him, stroke him, and soothe him until the demons leave and he smiles. Another woman has a picnic, flirts with her partner, throws many cocktail glasses, laughs like a maniac, and then bellows at us, "I am MUCH too fat for you!" But it becomes clear as she dances; she is not too fat for us. We are too small for her.
Bausch's talent is large enough, generous enough, to let the personalities of her dancers shine through. Each of these charismatic performers—particularly the women—has the indelible stamp of her own individuality. Some are small, sylph-like and Eastern in their movements. Some are mature and earth-shaking in their commitment.
The music is a crazy quilt of styles, but never feels arbitrary. The score includes tangos by Astor Piazzolla, traditional Turkish music, and electronic pop. Bausch's breathtaking finale is set to a gentle Tom Waits ballad, "All the World is Green."
It's easy to see why Almodovar is drawn to the work of this petite German choreographer in her 60s. They share one very important trait. Like Almodovar and other greats like Ingmar Bergman, Charlie Chaplin, and Tennessee Williams, Pina Bausch has within her the potential to be one of the great storytellers and entertainers of her time.