I was shocked and saddened to read, in this morning's New York Times, of the death of Pina Bausch, a mere five days after her diagnosis with an undisclosed form of cancer. I saw only two performances by her Wupperthaler Tanztheater, and that was--really? Really!--twenty-five years ago, at the time of the Los Angeles Summer Olympics in 1984. The concurrent arts festival, put together with genius by an old friend, then President of California Institute of the Arts Robert FitzPatrick, was instrumental in introducing California to a hitherto-unknown constellation of international performers, including the "butoh" theater of the Japanese group Sankai Juku, and Pina Bausch.
The two Wupperthaler Tanztheater performances I saw (having seen the first, without knowing what I was getting myself into, I rushed out to buy scarce tickets to the second) left me with a lasting impression like few other artistic events I can remember. At once profoundly primitive and astoundingly new, sophisticated, hypnotically rhythmic, intensely emotional and meticulously staged, the choreography gripped me with its theatrical blend of tragedy and the absurd. Bausch managed to tap into the full range of the human experience, from our incipient cruelty and violence to our capacity for openness, vulnerability, and love. She offered all this, it seemed to me, untempered, raw, irresistible in its impact, probing her fingers into parts of my psyche that I barely knew existed. The experience was shattering, deeply moving, unforgettable. For this, I thank her memory.
This video, posted on UTube, gives a very inadequate sense of her achievements. There may be others... If you've never seen the work of this now-departed genius, it's worth the search.