September 29 – October 9, 2010
Lush and lovely, with an expensive, over-the-top interactive set and all the long hair, high heels, and ill-fitting, floor-length gowns a person can take, Vollmond is everything we’ve come to expect from the late Pina Bausch. The work appears just as it has for some time, which is not to say that it isn’t a worthwhile production—who would want to miss this goodbye performance (the first in New York since her death last year), a chance to appreciate a profoundly affecting career and legacy?
As far as reviewing goes, however, there’s not much wiggle room. It reminds me of the often discussed, though rarely published, lukewarm reception of Trisha Brown’s late works. Do we expect artists to keep innovating late in life, once they are comfortable, established, and appreciated? The BAM audience, exuberant over memories and gratitude for Bausch, was happy enough to be presented with a familiar spectacle: water, fire, high energy, narrative, and all. Maybe we just need to accept the typical avant-garde artist’s career evolution and leave expectations for risk-taking in dance performance to those who are less established and hungrier. I’m sure that statement could easily be proved wrong but it wasn’t, nor did anyone expect it to be, in Vollmond.
Taking the water motif from Nefés to another level, Bausch’s stage for Vollmond was half covered by a shallow pool of “moonlit” still water (vollmond translates as “full moon”). At times, the dancers would run or swim through it, soaking their gowns or suits or removing them, while grinning from ear to ear. Each personality would appear in his or her own little vignette, which told a disconnected story that included love and friendship, courting, and even some lighthearted rejection. None of the love stories lasted long enough to really pull on your heartstrings—the acting was pointedly more caricature than anything else, like another decorative element for the stage. Most people complain about the “cultural tourism” element of Bausch’s last couple of performances—Nefés was set in Turkey and Bamboo Blues in India. But I actually missed the sense of place that those performances afforded; those on-stage fantasies were grounded in a fanciful interpretation of travel and the inevitably corny, however real, inspiration that exotic places bring to Westerners.
In Vollmond, the fantasy isn’t grounded in anything except human relationships, and not the kind that relate to the reality of day-to-day life, but mostly the exceptional moments that spark joy and humor. The dancing was at once familiar and inventive. Some of the familiarity came from Bausch’s use of repetition, but most of it was just the effect of stylistic consistency. Women sat on chairs holding empty wineglasses and men stood high above them, wildly pouring water from that absurd height until the water overflowed from the glasses onto the women and the ground. Someone blew up a balloon until it popped. A woman began to light her hair on fire; a man ran in and doused the flame with water before it could catch.
Whether or not the company will continue to show works from the repertoire in years to come is still an unanswered question. Bausch has said that she wants the work to continue to be shown, even without her there to control details and consistency as new performers step into old roles. Even if Bausch’s style solidified toward the end, it was still absolutely her own; there was nothing like it before her and it’s hard to imagine a world without it. Vollmond was less than earth-shattering, but as a symbolic ending to a long career, and with a question mark hovering around the possibility of further Tanztheater Wuppertal performances, the evening was a profoundly felt historical moment.