Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, NY.
March 10, 2023.
Pina Bausch’s Áqua took to the stage at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) for several weeks this spring to the delight of most dancers lovers in NYC. The company, Tanztheater Wuppertal, has come to BAM since 1984, and last performed in 2017. Over the span of almost three hours, audiences were transported to a whimsical world where cares seemed absent, and the absurd felt approachable. Part theater, part dance and part film, the show meandered through the lives of the characters’ emotions without any sense of urgency. For some, this was too long. For others, a welcome break from the state of the world today to a place that is no more, or maybe never was.
For this audience member, as a first-time viewer of the company, the show was a wonderful expression of how live art connects with all of us in ways that feel very real. There is no plot and the characters become chameleons of their formers selves many times over. We don’t need to know what’s happening or why because whatever a plot might exist, it’s secondary to emotions delivered by the performers. Emotions we all know about, and emotions we can all understand drive the show.
Bausch’s work centered largely around emotion, as her process often singularly relied on that factor. While all the dancers on stage are exceptional, the commitment and authenticity they displayed had a greater impact than any technical feat (although there were many). Perhaps the long-held practice of using improvisation in the creative process is responsible for this outcome – with improv, it’s largely impossible to be disconnected from one’s self, and one’s emotional landscape.
Others have said these performances were but shadows of the company that previously performed in this theater over the years. After the sudden death of Bausch in 2009, the company held on to her laser-like vision for as long as they could, but inevitably each dancer becomes further from the source as time moves on. In fact, of all the dancers on stage in this production, only two ever worked directly with Bausch. That said, art is an ever evolving expression, and while this might not be the Áqua of the early 1990s, it was still a dedicated performance and one that captivated much of the audience in attendance.
To sit and consume such a long work can be arduous, but this compelled attention the entire time. There’s a different tonality to European dance work, this one with a sense of whimsy and a playfulness we don’t see as much with American choreography. When all the elements of this piece converged, it took the viewer to a place of wonder and silliness that is welcome in these darker times. One should look forward to the next time Tanztheater Wuppertal returns to Brooklyn.
By Emily Sarkissian of Dance Informa.