On June 30, 2009, five days after being diagnosed with cancer, Pina Bausch died. A dance colleague– whose structurally spare work has so little to do with Bausch’s metaphor-laden Tanztheater– wrote to tell me what a shock Pina’s death was, how she hadn’t realized that she counted on Pina continuing to pose pleasures and problems, year after year, even when those problems and pleasure themselves seemed like already worn territory.
There are so many unforgettable images from her works– Heiner calls her images a “thorn in the eye.” This concluding scquence from Nelken has always been one of my favorites.
How to pay tribute to Pina? Having neither time nor inclination for a comprehensive essay– these have already been written– (I am currently using Johannes Birringer’s “Pina Bausch Dancing Across Borders” in my fall course), I have chosen to translate an poetic essay by Heiner Müller on Pina. It’s a fast and dirty translation, which I do not intend to defend, but which I do hope should bring some measure of pleasure through the unlikely tangency between these two titans of post-war experimental theatre.
I do not think it is an accident that Müller’s text, written in 1981, already read like posthumous appreciation.
BLOOD IS IN THE SHOE OR THE ENIGMA OF FREEDOM
For Pina Bausch
As children we played hide and seek.
Do you still remember our games.
Face on a tree or a wall
Hand over your eyes until the last
Found their place, and whoever was seen
Had to race with the searcher.
He who first arrives at the tree is free
When he must not remain standing in the spot
As if the knock on the tree or wall
Nailed him to the ground like a grave.
He may not move until the last
Was found. And sometimes the last
Was too well hidden and not found.
Then everyone waits, standing there petrified,
Each his own monument, right up to the last.
And sometimes it happens that one dies
And his hiding place is not found, no
Hunger drives him out from his death
That has found him out of ranks
The dead are not hungry.
Then the resurrection is canceled. The searcher
Has turned over every stone four times.
Now he can only wait, his face
On a tree or wall
His hands over his eyes until the world
has gone by. Note their pace.
Lay your hand over your eyes, brother.
The others that the searcher nailed to
The ground with his knock
On the tree or wall because they didn’t run
Fast enough from their hiding places that weren’t
Safe enough, and now they have
No hand for their eyes because they
May not move and also may
Close their eyes according to the rules.
Like stones in the graveyard they wait
With open eyes up until the last second…
Time in the theater of Pina Bausch is the time of fairy tales. History transpires as an interruption, like gnats in the summer. Space is threatened by the occupation of one or another grammar, that of ballet or drama, but dance’s flightline holds off both occupations. The territory is virgin soil. An island that just appeared, the product of an unknown (forgotten or coming) catastrophe: perhaps it is happening even now, while the performance is under way. Something of the immediate connection to life, for which Brecht had always envied Elizabethan theater, is made. Film or television are no competition: they can be used. The whole thing is child’s play.
The players are survivors. (The spectator will perhaps have a different experience.) They report on the terror of childhood: Hansel and Gretel, fleeing from their stepmother, get lost in the supermarket. The only way into the clear is perhaps a department store fire: it had ultimately begun with fire… The feeling: Little Red Riding Hood meets the Big Bad Wolf at the disco, who wants to buy her love with the dead grandmother’s money. Maybe she will have to learn his language, which is the language of violence, and “with the weapon in hand” expropriate his sex… Of ballet: it appears as curdled history: the body’s order under law. Humanism’s striptease lays bear culture’s bloody root.
An instant of time belongs to the survivors. They celebrate on the tightrope between buildings, which are threatened by collapse. The choreography stands in the tradition of dance macarbe. Between the wars another Middle Ages. It was the Germans’ Golden Era: happiness in osmosis with collective death, equality before the hourglass an illusion of justice on Judgment Day. The demonic at the Brecht’s graveyard struggle against Hitler, which Benjamin registered with erudite horror, grows out of the (re)course to this ground, is supplied by this glowing ember.
The Middle Ages for Pina Bausch: consumption stands in for the black plague, the youngest rider of the Apocalypse. The law of series is the law of selection, the genocide of the Highest School of Statistics, the way to slaughter [Schlachtbank] leads through the databank, the final truth of consumption can be atomic flash. We’ve bet on the wrong horse, maybe the running has already happened. Before the clearance sale, the theatre dances inventory, performs the cash registers’ ritual collapse. Women’s murderer hope: that which in us desires and hates, loves and rapes. Crime scene investigation in the drafty Kontakthof: the zombies’ parade, advertising’s happy sacrifices. Dignity of the tango versus the free choice of one’s manner of death. Laughter frozen in stereotypes, repetition’s insistence unmasks boredom: pain is its face; beneath the threshold of consciousness, where desires and fears lodge, the hold makes laughter like crying subersive.
“In Italy I had a rooster. He always went in other gardens, and my mother had to kill him. On the evening when she had cooked him, she said that he was my rooster, and if I didn’t want to, I didn’t have to eat him. But I wanted to eat it all. I wanted him entirely for myself.” Pina Bausch’s Middle Ages is that of Brecht’s CHILDREN’S CRUSADE, in which the stray dog alone knows the way, since the good Lord had to lay down the mask of the categorical imperative– it burned even his skin– and lost his face before the death camps’ mountains of shoes, hair, and gold teeth. (Perhaps he still had a chance as a woman: icon in men’s magazines, or on the peep show’s alter.) The children are still on the march: the child who didn’t want to wash when the king visited, and the difficult child, whose hand grows from the grave. The young murderer from American cities and gangs of children in Third World metropolises. Mao’s Red Garden and the exterminating angel of the Verlaine reader, Pol Pot.
YOU SHALL NOT MAKE GRAVEN IMAGES. The metaphors of violence in BLUEBEARD are not for home use (“this is how one rapes a woman”). Hiding is the first game: the child wants to disappear. Nudity is taboo: before the marriage the groom may not see the bride, and there’s still a nasty wait until the ceremony. In Pina Bausch’s theatre, the image is a thorn in the eye, bodies write a text, which refuses publication, the prison of meaning. Liberation from ballet’s compulsions, in which the stigma of bondage is sedimented– that stigma which the certain lord of a certain creation enjoys like hunting, the other feudal hobby. The democratization of the military review is a transition, liberation of the serfs for the assembly line: in stadiums the mass becomes ornament. The congruency of ornament and trophy becomes painfully visible in the flash of a balletic parody: Bluebeard’s women as hanging decoration in Bluebeard’s castle. After theatre without text–from Zadek’s HAMLET to Stein’s ORESTIE, to name only two golden calves– before which one loses one’s hearing in moments of happiness, a new language of theatre. After Grüber’s great failed attempt with a mediocre period-piece to turn theatre in its north-south axis, in spite of its audience, which does not wish to forego the evening entertainment’s odor of sweat, another theatre of freedom. That a sphinx gazes at us, when we look freedom in the face, should not astonish us.