REVIEW: Pina Bausch’s “Kontakthof” at BAM
Pina Bausch has a gift for holding up a beautiful mirror and gently showing us how ridiculous we look. In Kontakthof, scenes unfold wildly out of proportion, with hysterical shrieks meeting compulsive preening meeting a fake mouse corpse. “There are dancers onstage,” Anna Wehsarg comments at one point: “do you see them?” Yes, we do, but we also see ourselves in these rambunctious, melancholic, shy, sarcastic, and earnest portrayals of social endeavoring.
Kontakthof is an experiment in proportion. Events transpire in perfectly calibrated duration; overexaggerated sketches build from everyday encounters, a transformation that highlights the short slope between “rational” and “irrational” emotional behavior. The movement itself is often unathletic, gestural. Costume changes run the gamut from subtle—one shimmering ball gown to another—to absurd, in the recurring appearance of 1950’s-style nightgowns. Sometimes the dancers strip onstage to change; Ditta Miranda Jasjfi and Aleš Čuček strip sheepishly, mouthing unheard tidbits to each other from across the stage, each one daring the other to keep going.
Bausch is quoted as saying “I’m not interested in how people move, but what moves them.” Now of course, every member of this gorgeous, eclectic company moves beautifully, and they don’t navigate the stage by accident. Every raised eyebrow feels deliberate. But each dancer reaches, at various points throughout the almost-three-hour performance, a state of honesty that transcends performance. In a perfect metaphor, the entire company sits in a row of chairs facing the same direction as the audience and watches a short film about ducks. The ducks float about their business and a chipper narrator explains aquatic social politics. “Aww!” the company exclaims at the movie’s end. It’s the kind of foreshadowing a nonfiction writer pines for: observing a distant species in its natural habitat, getting just close enough to feel involved, and abruptly being removed.
Leaving the theater, I overheard someone refer to the section in which Nazareth Panadero is groped, poked, jiggled, and pinched (one of the sections of this work that also appear in Wim Wenders’s film) as “awful.” I can’t argue—it’s devastating—but working with expanded proportion as Kontaktof does, it’s deserved. We see and hear real cruelty; Wehsarg tells her prone partner that he looks “like a smushed lemon.” There is real love here as well, real pain, real banality. It’s the emotional spectrum of our lives made richer.