A slight, stooping figure dressed in black walks out on stage. You can hear a pin drop in the 1000-seater Theatre de la Ville in Paris, packed to its gills, where giant fish swim along endlessly between waving algae in an aquarium of unconscious happenings.
Pina Bausch stands in front of the projection, raises her arms and begins a 5 minute solo where, with feet rooted to the ground, she gradually disappears into the image, a waving frond of algae amidst others. The human is only part of the universe, not its center.
‘Danzon’ was the precise beginning of my thirteen-year obsession with Pina Bausch and her work. When Himali asked me to write something on my work, I said yes, unsure about my capacity to write about my own work, words not being my means of expression. I soon called her and said that somehow, everything I write seems to be about Pina. She said, “Then write about Pina”. I was only part of the universe, not at its center.
I started dancing in earnest the year Pina died. She had asked me the first time I had met her if I were a dancer. I said no. Because I did not have a “form”. I spent the next 10 years gathering courage to go and tell her, simply, “Pina, I want to dance”, and never doing it, always stopping right at the brink, thinking I’ll do it the next time I see her. And then she was gone. And I had to dance.
To the question why dance: Dance, dance or we are lost says the film by Wim Wenders, ‘Pina’. I deeply and profoundly believe that. When I see the joy that dancing brings anyone, dancers, “non-dancers”, the old, the young, the blind, the hearing impaired, I wonder why so many people insist they don’t “dance”. Everybody dances.
A moment from Bausch’s piece, ‘Bandoneon’, consists of a dancer on stage, folding and unfolding a piece of paper and repeating the same line over and over again. Just that. Over and over again. The night I was in the audience, certain people began booing and whistling and suddenly, a woman got up from the audience, went onstage, did a little pirouette, exclaimed “this is dance!” and walked out. It could have been an instant choreographed by Bausch herself.
I have always danced and had always never quite thought of myself as a dancer but more as a theatre performer. Trained in physical theatre, the urge to move was satisfied by my work but I still didn’t think I was a “dancer”. It was Pina’s pieces that gave me the courage and the imagination to dance and keep dancing. Age, shape, colour, form was no barrier to her: this allowed me to dream. But I thought that I could only dance with her, that no one else would have the same empathy, honesty and sincerity of her work. Her sudden death provided the much needed slap in the face to stop dreaming and instead, start living my dream. I was in India at the time, so I applied for a dance residency and created my first solo, a piece described as “mongrel” by a friend. I agree. A piece with dance, theatre, speech, movement and visual images, anything and everything I could use to express what I wanted to express. Again inspired by her work where the everyday became special and magical, where the familiar became strange.
Pina’s work was a vision of intimacy, of those little and big gestures of which we are made and which escape us. A dance made with a mise en scene of little nothings, magically woven together and placed in a precise situation that suddenly taken on an added meaning.
“Sometimes, people come up to me and say “I want to get up on stage and dance with you,” one of Pina’s dancers said.
In Aby Warburg’s description of ‘Pathosformel’ as the ability of an outward movement to reveal the inner emotions of the figure concerned, I understood Pina’s famous statement: “I’m not interested in how people move, I’m interested in what makes them move”.
To dance, then, is to borrow from the big world of forms, to listen to its errs and uhms, to watch its eyebrows twitch and its fingers smile. Then to let this body universal mediate the waters and the depth it instills in us, the skies and the space it inspires, the streets and the love and the yearning… So that we can dance on the peripheries in order to access its centre.
Niranjani Iyer is a performer and director / choreographer currently based in Delhi.
Pina Baush is a German performer and choreographer of modern dance.
Form is a bookshelf holding books, a spine of a book holding its pages. It is the architecture after the architect. Just as gravity holds the earth down even as it floats in some larger space; just as the body holds a consciousness, even as it daydreams outside of it. It is a line bent into a symbol, droplets of mercury constrained in a thermometer. It is a molecular bond, it is our minds finding habit.Read More