It’s nearly impossible not to enjoy works by the incomparable Pina Bausch. Thirty years ago, Kontakthof (1978), a work that introduced Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal to New York sparked rave interest when it came to BAM. “The word was out, the place was mobbed,” wrote Anna Kisselgoff in The New York Times. “Pina Bausch, from West Germany, is the most talked-about choreographer in Europe and it was obvious that her reputation had preceded her.” Thirty years later, and five years since Bausch’s death, the draw is still there; BAM audiences filled the house. In this work, like most all her works, women glide across the stage in very high heels and sexy gowns, and the men are dapper in their elegantly tailored suits. Shoes off and the dancing is luscious. Microphones on and almost anything will come out of their mouths. The slapstick, the mise-en-scène, and impeccable timing are commendable. Twenty-three performers shape the evening’s many stories which take place in a dance hall – the very expansive stage in the opera house was bare except for the walls (a redesigned ballroom/dance hall with usable doors in a few corners), a small stage in the back, twenty-three chairs and a piano. Later, a mechanical pony comes in for a cameo, and what a cameo it was. Here, as in other Bausch works, examining complex relationships is not new, but it’s always intriguing to find out which route she will take. For three hours this event offers a mix of Bausch-esqe commentary on sexuality (the very erotic ride on the mechanical pony after one dancer collected coins from audience members in the front row to operate the machine), two dancers on either sides of the stage undress – one piece of garment at a time as if daring the other to see how far they could go; plus duets after duets where men and women manipulate the other’s limbs, stick a finger in a nostril, or squeeze a bum. Not to be forgotten is the dance instruction on how to properly move the hips, followed by a segment of lots of hip shaking, or the repeating gestures in the processional circle around the stage – their ever-changing facial expressions were truly the thing to see. This was a long one, and though it would not have hurt to shave off a bit, Kontakthof is clearly one of Bausch’s best.
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I am a performer, historian, consultant and dance writer. I am a faculty member at Hunter College, Sarah Lawrence College (Guest), Empire State College's online program Center for Distance Learning. I am also a former faculty member of The Ailey School and the Alvin Ailey/Fordham University dance major program, Kean University and The Joffrey Ballet School's Jazz and Contemporary Trainee Program. I write on dance for The Amsterdam News, Dance Magazine and various publications. Click below to read more about me at my home page - "About Me."