What Ballet Could Learn from Bausch

Ballet and modern dance constantly steal from each other. The styles sometimes become so closely entwined that labeling a piece as just one or the other doesn't even make sense. But there's still so much more we could learn from one another. Watching Pina Bausch's Tanztheater Wuppertal at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last night, I couldn't stop thinking, Ballet could use a little more of this. Here's why:

 

1. Bausch's women are gorgeous and feminine without being weak, or manipulated, or helpless victims. Often dressed in elegant floor-length gowns with long, flowing hair, these female dancers are jaw-droppingly beautiful in a way that makes no apologies for their strength. They don't wait for princes to save them; they turn men into blubbering idiots.

 

2. Although "...como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si..." has no overarching storyline, hints of scenes break up the movement. It's non-linear, dreamlike dance theater that sucks the audience in. Bausch knew that something doesn't have to make sense to be compelling. In ballet, Alexei Ratmansky seems to be the only choreographer today who's brave enough to play with this balance between abstract and innuendo.

 

3. Speaking of Ratmansky, I absolutely love that he recently told The New York Times' Brian Siebert, "You can’t really sustain the interest of the audience with just dancing for more than 20 minutes, 30 maximum for me. Then you need some special effect or story." Bausch got this. No matter how captivating one of her ideas was, she knew when to move on to the next motif, when to change the mood, when to add a bit of zany humor, when to give the audience a jolt of pure, awesome dance.

 

4. Her movement eats up space. The Tanztheater Wuppertal dancers flow from one side of the stage to the next so effortlessly that it makes even something as simple as running look exquisite. When her dancers do stay in one place, it looks like a conscious choice for contrast, not like she stopped the larger movement across the floor because it was time to show off some steps.

 

5. Bausch also knew the power of the tick of a finger: The littlest movement can have a huge effect, if it's the right movement. And if it's done with enough conviction. Sure, fouettés and barrel turns are impressive, but so is the right well-timed port de bras.

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