thu 25/04/2024

Ten Chi, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Barbican Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Ten Chi, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Barbican Theatre

Ten Chi, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Barbican Theatre

A female dream fantasy with a phallic whale, snowy pillows and docile men doesn't ring true

Do you know what goes really well with Champagne? Mechthild Grossman in 'Ten Chi'© Bettina Stöss/Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch

The Japanese dance public is overwhelmingly female, so it’s not surprising that Pina Bausch’s paean to Saitama, Ten Chi, is so girly.

The fourth in the series of “World Cities” that’s sold out London’s two great dance centres, the Barbican and Sadler’s Wells, this late Bausch (2004) is pregnant with wish-fulfilment, gorgeous young men doing sexy things like watching while women bathe or disrobe, while a vast, muscular whale’s tail plunges erotically into the earth and soft plucking music washes through the darkness.

"Ten Chi" means, I understand, Heaven and Earth, and this is a safe escapist heaven for women far away from the violent gender warfare glimpsed in the Los Angeles piece, Nur Du, or the fractious flirtations in the Roman one, Viktor. While the monumental whale may equally satisfy decoders of other social subtexts (a subtle protest at fishing policy?), it actually much more invokes an erotically devised Japanese garden, the umbrella-shaped tail as much a stone quoit or animistic totem, the white-dappled floor as much a raked gravel courtyard, on which the bare female feet patter softly as cat’s paws.

Some Bauschites will be disappointed that there is very little violence and very little smoking

Some Bauschites will be disappointed that there is very little violence and very little smoking. From the start, the movement has an unaccustomedly fluid, oriental and yielding quality - a divinely silky opening solo for a woman in ivory satin slip, with long undressed hair and bare feet, suggests a soft-bodied sea creature snuggling into her shell, and a whooshy feeling permeates thanks to the stream of smoochy jazz and regretful plucked strings.

An almost constant shower of white particles offers various interpretative notions, perhaps snow on Mount Fuji, or pillow down, or spring cherry blossom, or even (finally) atomic ash. A certain connection with ageing, with ensuring that older women’s voices are heard, would also seem to have aimed at Pina’s Japanese public (nicely scheduled to follow the youth-themed ...como el musguito... at Sadler's Wells mid-week).

nazareth panadero, ulli weissA charismatic, baritonal-voiced actress, Mechthild Grossman (see main picture), barks acerbic challenges at the audience on behalf of all unfulfilled middle-aged women: “Do you know what goes really well with Champagne? Me.”

Another Bausch veteran, the wonderfully comic Nazareth Panadero (pictured right by Ulli Weiss), giggles orgasmically as a man strips her black net dress off her piece by piece, and when he gets too frantic, she shrieks, “Slowly!” Not bad, but not in the same ironical ballpark as the grittier Bausch of the 1980s.

Much play is made of large white pillows and sleeping motifs, dreams are related of being chased by men or enacted of being pampered by men. One young hunk is made to put on a kimono and handed a dustpan and brush; others obediently sweep the females into their arms where they swim gently like naiads in the misty half-light.

pina bausch ten chiThe chaps are anonymous and smart in black and white, like idealised young salarymen, and have vivid jitterbugging solos (pictured left by Bettina Stöss). The ladies wear the glamorous Pina wardrobe of slithery satin gowns that are almost negligees, in cream, hot orange, purple, bronze, colours you want to touch. Their dances are succulent with surrendering backs and winding, serpentine arms, embroidered with hand arrangements as intricately designed as peonies.

It’s very very beautiful, and very very indulgent, this dreamscape, created even more than Nur Du from little bits of things dependent on the individuality of Bausch’s riveting group of dancers, and not in the least reflective of any personal viewpoint on Japanese social structures to the extent that made Viktor powerful (or her greater community works, such as Nelken or Kontakthof). True, it finishes with a riveting hip-hop jam session, in which both sexes pile into a terrific melee of breakdance, like raging on the brink of apocalypse, but at three hours Ten Chi comes over as pretty fishy really, a gorgeous package of nothing personal.

Listen to a music track used in 'Ten Chi', Beth Gibbons and Rustin Man's 'Funny Time of Year'

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters