pina bausch: a new dance language

pina bausch created a new dance language. u can see its syntax in the fractured phrases and speech elements she configured in her work, held together by a logical structure, with extensions, explorations, and repetitions. modern dance itself developed against the codified tenets of ballet and its male-dominated companies, but pina pushed the genre further, combining dance with theatre, art and music, and completely transforming the european dance landscape.

pina has been criticized for the acts of brutality and humiliation found in her work, and for creating a “theatre of dejection” that embraces the pornography of pain. i can see it both ways.

i understand that she’s reflecting the world we live in by creating rigid gender binaries – women in colorful slip dresses, long hair flowing wildly, and men in suits or slacks with bare torsos. since gender consists of repeated, performative acts (according to judith butler) and depends on “fabrications manufactured and sustained through corporeal signs and discursive means,” bausch is simply establishing the acts that mark someone as “man” or “woman.” many times, the men are aggressive, manipulative, menacing, or mere props to climb on or be carried by.

the women are softer, non-confrontational but strong and athletic. many scenes have the intensity of ritual sacrifice. sometimes the women and men indulge in a dance of mechanical symbiosis, like pulleys and belts that fit and turn together.

there is a “hysterical” woman who rages and screams and wants what’s impossible. many of these ideas (including sexual harassment, frustration and madness) were present in agua, even if they were presented as humorous rather than troubling. there is always a layer of discomfort underneath.

but i can also see how recycling misogyny/violence without presenting an alternative world, can seem to normalize, magnify, and even promote it. more about agua specifically in next post.

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