Tanztheater Wuppertal has a notably devoted following and, to some extent, viewers will already know what to expect from a Bausch work. A large, dominant stage set by Peter Pabst that frames, hinders or becomes part of the action; beautifully-performed gestural processions; loosely-connected vignettes; Marion Cito’s gorgeous costuming. These elements are all present and correct in Ahnen, but with an added element of strange chaos that doesn’t belong to her most famous works.
The first ten minutes of the show seem deliberately calculated to put the audience’s collective head in a spin. Bright lighting; a loud burst of German electropunk; characters strutting across the stage in a bizarre mélange of costumes that includes manga cats, kilted punks and animated hats like something out of a Magritte painting; a woman dumping wheelbarrowloads of bricks at the back of the stage; a woman attacking a concrete block with a pneumatic drill. Overlapping action and unexplained occurrences on stage are a pair of Pina hallmarks, but the frenetic rate and the dizzying randomness of events made me wonder if Bausch had popped across the border in 1987 for a trip to see one of her young Belgian contemporaries – Alain Platel, perhaps, or maybe Wim Vandekeybus.
After a while the pace settles down, but the action itself continues flitting from scene to scene without even the loose connecting theme that binds so much of Bausch’s other work. A woman with a painted face grates a stick of soap into powder onto a rug; a man appears bound with an orange in his mouth, and is given a wet-shave by a fellow cast member; somebody mops a walrus at the back of the stage. There’s a helicopter, and a dog. A man sits silently in front of a microphone with a tutu wrapped around his head; others stack bricks, wind wool and tie ties repeatedly. One man instructs another to literally jump through a hoop placed against a wall with painful-looking results.
Pain is otherwise notable by its absence here, in stark contrast to last week’s bleaker Auf dem Gebirge hat man ein Geschrei gehört. The mood is light, if relentlessly odd; Bausch’s works are usually abstractedly dreamlike, but Ahnen is more overtly surreal than any I recall to date. There’s a feeling of global wandering – the soundtrack lurches from African drumming to Monteverdi via Ella Fitzgerald and Japanese pop – and the desert evoked by the giant (and undeniably phallic) cacti seems less of a physical location and more a place of the soul.
Ahnen is certainly a peculiar kind of fun, and there are endless surprises and sweet highlights throughout – from hilarious running translations of Bizet arias to a seated ensemble section for hands (perhaps a little touch of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker creeping in there) – but it’s hard to say what it all adds up to. The title suggests only the most hazy of clues: as a noun ‘Ahnen’ can mean ancestors (for anyone looking for connections to last week’s show it’s part of the term ‘Ahnenpass’, the document used in Nazi Germany to prove Aryan heritage) or, as a verb, to guess, intuit or suspect. Portions of the show seem to hint at a sense of wandering identity, a search for heritage, an attempt to fit in among the cacti; others seem to veer more towards a sense of guessing, intuiting, feeling without understanding.
A technical hitch with the fire curtain towards the end of the second half had the audience wondering if this was another (deliberate) strange intervention in a landscape of strange interventions – tribute, certainly, to the commitment of the cast in maintaining this most peculiar of atmospheres. Described by Artistic Director Lutz Förster as “completely crazy” and by The Guardian’s Judith Mackrell as “Bausch on speed”, Ahnen is undoubtedly an oddity among the Bausch back-catalogue but an enjoyable one all the same.
Photo: Bettina Strenske
Originally published at www.londondance.com