Vollmond (Full Moon)
nytheatre.com review by Stan Richardson
October 1, 2010
German choreographer Pina Bausch was an artist's artist. She was a choreographer, so I suppose you could say she was a "choreographer's choreographer" except that her tanztheater ("dance-theater") has inspired artists of all disciplines. Though I suspect she's not well-known in the United States outside of New York City (save for her appearance in Almodovar's 2002 masterpiece Talk To Her), she is certainly one of the most frequently-cited influences of many theatre-makers, film-makers, and visual artists I've known.
She died unexpectedly in June of last year. By that point I'd seen only two of her shows at the Brooklyn Academy of Music although the venue has been the exclusive presenter of her American premieres for over two decades. So when I learned that Vollmond (created in 2006) would be performed there this month as part of the Next Wave Festival, I wondered if this would be the last time (in a long long time, at least) that the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch would be in New York City. I half-wanted to bring everyone I knew who hadn't seen her work and I half-wanted to savor it for myself.
So I compromised and just brought one friend familiar with Bausch only by reputation. At intermission, she delicately asked me: "So is this one of her less...er pieces?" With immense regret, I nodded my head. Vollmond was somewhat bewildering to her, and somewhat heartbreaking to me. Did I expect too much? Was I not sophisticated enough to be thrilled by this show the way I was sophisticated enough two years ago to be thrilled by Bamboo Blues—or even four years ago by Nefes? Both of those pieces had specific cultural contexts (Turkish and Indian, respectively). But Vollmond—which literally means "Full Moon"—should be universal, right? And besides, doesn't every Pina Bausch piece seem to involve people under the influence of a really cracked-out lunar phase?
The dancers themselves are extraordinary. I'd seen most of them in her previous shows and, in addition to being athletic and expressive in every respect, they are these wonderfully vivid archetypes esoteric to Bausch's oeuvre. The most memorable to recent audiences may be Nazareth Panadero, the haughty, throaty, raven-haired vamp who strolls across the stage with a shit-eating grin, staring down the audience and finally announcing a bizarre little observation on life. Or that taut beefcake Rainer Behr, whose Napoleonic height is always a fresh source of comedy every time he is paired with a long-legged, long-haired minx (which is to say, every time he's on stage with a female member of the ensemble).
Vollmond has Bausch's signature curiosity about the constantly mystifying relations between men and women. Like the previous shows I've mentioned, this one is layered with gorgeous solos, the occasional dance involving the entire ensemble, and many interludes with various observations (verbal and physical, funny and sad)—all seamlessly transitioning into and out of each other. Though her choreography is both lush and idiosyncratic, it's the easy, witty, unapologetic transitions that I've always admired most. That is, to the extent they can isolated and identified. But while all of that is present here—along with the spectacle of a giant rock and lots and lots of rainwater—Vollmond lacks the cohesiveness that made her other shows intelligible, urgent, and moving. There's more sight gags then soul, more tricks than tenderness. But it is definitely minor Bausch.
We saw the show a couple performances after opening night, but the excitement in the auditorium was palpable and the applause went on and on. Were they applauding for Vollmond or to her memory? How many were seeing her work for the first time and were astounded like I was in 2006? And how many were just happy to see anything else of hers they could? In fact, this piece was created and premiered in Europe before the two other pieces I so admired. So maybe it's a fluke. Or maybe I've learned everything from her that I need to know. What an unsettling thought.