Archives for posts with tag: Pina Bausch


Over my head, two huge wasps hang motionless. From my position, flat on my back on the Theatre Royal stage, they are quite threatening, though motionless. I’m recovering from the first exercise. At 9.45 on a Saturday morning, Amanda, the teacher from Ballet Rambert, has just made us drop, bring one knee forward to a right angle, stretch the other leg back, lift our arms… oh, come on. We’re all over 60. A quiet word from Hannah, our project manager, and Amanda adjusts her expectations of us. She’s young, dynamic, funny, and very very fit. It’s strange to look out on the old gilded theatre, as we twist, stretch, and windmill to some loud mashup dance track booming out, but it’s exhilarating too.

After two hours of this, and the full English breakfast, we cross to the Corn Exchange for three hours of rehearsal for ‘Handbag’ – a performance involving over a hundred women dancing round their handbags, and walk-on parts for twelve men, in the vast space. It starts with one woman at each end (the audience are corralled in the middle behind hazard tape) to an extended ‘Billie Jean’, while our group huddle behind a door, trying not to laugh, talk or sneeze, before we make our separate entrances onto the floor. We do six performances, then sprint off to see the Rambert show, where beautiful young bodies fly through the air in white pants, to a video backdrop of a snake writhing through flames, a burning erotic flower and snowdrops falling into diamonds…

Pina Bausch’s company at Sadler’s Wells is a different kettle of goldfish: from inside a distorted white room, windows show a cactus garden, a tropical garden, and big tanks of, yes, goldfish. This is not ballet, it’s dance-theatre. Surreal, if not actually dada, it shows the everyday human condition in bizarre scenes. Men in dinner jackets threaten, bully and cajole women in evening dresses: I shudder each time an axe is brought on-stage (usually to chop oranges for drinks though). A distraught woman crashes from wall to wall, her arm in a sling, shackled by a saucepan; four couples waltz all around the room on their bottoms, perfectly synchronised; an old transvestite dons flippers to share the goldfish-bath; a naked man quietly sprays himself white from toe to hair… Well, you had to be there. Phew.

Having suddenly got a taste for live performance after an epic Gershwin concert at the Albert Hall, my dad wonders whether I could accompany him to the Royal Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet. It’s at the O2. “What? the O2, as in rock concerts? the venue formerly known as the Millenium Dome?” The very one. I’m not really a stadium-goer, nor a classical ballet enthusiast, but I know what I like. Pina Bausch, but anyway… Nearly 90, he’s increasingly interested in the arts, but this is a new one on me.

Queueing for my pre-booked tickets in the windswept plaza, I call the wheelchair line, and soon dad is wheeled to meet me by a friendly young attendant. The tickets – a total of £11.25 for a disabled person and carer (yes, I do care) – seem remarkably good value. But our wheeler says she can upgrade us for a better view, and pushes us (him – I’m still walking) onto a balcony nearer the front. On the way she’s ordered me a coffee from another attendant, who brings it to my seat, and charges me: nothing.

It’s vast, the O2 Arena. Really vast. I’m sure there are clouds drifting through it. Whenever I’m in big indoor spaces I imagine myself, somehow, hanging from a little handle in the middle of the ceiling and looking down. Just to terrify myself. Coca-Cola, Sky, Nestlé and the other multi-national carnivores flash their digital messages around the arena till all the lights go down, and spotlights pick out the stage (still a few hundred feet away).

And here’s the problem really: the place is so huge, there are three big video screens above the stage. You know you should watch the stage – this is live performance; but it’s so easy and somehow, strangely natural, to watch the screen. It’s what many of us do all day long, and again in the evening. So I’m forcing myself to watch the stage, but glancing at the screens from time-to-time. It’s the war between two and three dimensions: shape versus space. The screen images are shot straight-on from the front, a viewpoint I like; on the stage is the real thing: life.

Of course, it’s beautifully-danced, and the dramatic Prokofiev is exquisitely played, and the sound is perfect. And, by the end, my hard old eye seems somehow moist. But on the way home, we’re talking about the woman who wheeled him all the way back to the bus stop, the guy who brought me coffee, the cheerful, well, service, of the people who work at the O2.