Oh Dominique, you are entertaining
Set in a quarry, Viktor is the first of ten Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch shows to be presented in the World Cities 2012 series. Created in 1986 after an invited stay in Rome the piece features plenty of talking, shouting, screaming, singing, lumps of stone, bodies being suffocated and lots of smoking. Lots and lots of smoking. In truth the dancers spend more time lighting up than actually dancing.
There are some neat ensemble pieces which rotate around wind-milling arms and curvy body movement. There are also a couple of digs at ballet; there’s the famous ‘this is veal!’ routine as seen in Wim Wenders’ movie Pina where an ageing ballerina stuffs veal in her pointe shoes before twirling off to Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique symphony, and there’s also a lengthy scene where a woman is put through her paces by a slouchy old ballet mistress who’s more interested in the migratory path of birds; the hapless student eventually finds herself trussed up in arabesque stage left.
But then dancing is only part of Pina Bausch’s allure. The heart of it is in the juxtaposing of imagery and in the audience connection. Examples: there’s a caterpillar of tightly-knit ballroom dancers that sway through the audience while a man barters sheep at the back of the stage. Half a dozen women in elegant gowns sit behind table-clothed tables buttering buns and endearingly handing them out to the front rows with smiles as sweet as the jam they’ve slapped on top. A man in a dinner suit saws wood with all the careful grace and panache of a master conjuror. A beautiful woman in a skin-tight dress slinks up to the front of the stage, leans poutingly forward, cups her breasts in her hands and demands to be taken seriously.
There are hundreds of these images, and like an episode of Monty Python, many are left unresolved and they often intrude into each other. Yet the piece sags heavily. There’s a lot of repetition, a surprising amount of empty stage time and many of the sketches, such as the restaurant scene, overstay their welcome. And then, just when you think it’s finished, it starts again from the beginning.
The funniest moment by far was when a (very real) Welsh Terrier, clearly bored with his role in the dog sale, started having lovely-times with an (equally real) Chihuahua on the auction table, to the apparent satisfaction of both. Even the stern auctioneer couldn’t hide her giggles.