Celebrated as one of her finest pieces, Cafe Muller marks PINA BAUSCH’s first appearance on a British stage in a decade. Tamsin Grainger charts the career of this most innovative and inspiring of contemporary dance figures.

icture a cafe at night, tables and chairs stacked up, street lights shining through a revolving glass door. A pitiful figure enters, dressed in a white shift, tripping forwards with arms extended, obviously un-seeing. She edges nervously along the back wall, and as she sets off to negotiate the room she can’t help but bump into things. With her short, sharp runs, she zig-zags across the floor in and out of the shadows, encapsulating human vulnerability through her very simplicity of movement. When a second woman enters in the same way, the audience fears for her. Will she suffer a similar fate? Within seconds a man in a suit dashes onto the stage, frantically rushing to move furniture out of her way. But she does not acknowledge him, she still stumbles, and, as she breaks into the first

Chairs and tables are constantly moved, often at high speed, to make way tor hurtling bodies, and yet at any given moment the stage is as balanced as a

classical landscape.

dance phrase of the performance, her chin stretched towards the ceiling, yearning, and her body rippling with despair, it is in direct contrast to the man’s utilitarian actions.

Cafe Muller is a seminal work by Pina Bausch, a chamber piece of dance theatre which lasts for little over one hour and yet sums up the tragedy of human relationships. It is a thoroughly involving and truly masterful work which reaches to the core of contemporary life.

Known all over the world as an artist who has challenged the definition of dance and created a new form of theatre, Bausch has inspired choreographers and performance artists from Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker to Lloyd Newson. She has won numerous awards and it is no surprise that Brian McMaster, Edinburgh Festival Director, admits, ‘I’ve been a fan of hers for years.’

Even these first minutes of Cafe Muller indicate the precise choice of movement that makes Bausch’s work so intense. Her skill as a director and choreographer are apparent from the outset, for, without the time and care that she takes in the creation of her work, such depth of experience would not come through. She spends many weeks with her performers, challenging them with her ideas and encouraging them to carry out

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their own research. She draws on their past, believing there is nothing more powerful than real life. Working six days a week in the studio, she collaborates with designers as well as her classically trained dancers using text, music and movement. ‘That is what our normal life is,’ she has commented. ‘It’s fantastic and very difficult.’

Pina Bausch is part of an unusual but recognisable tradition with direct influences from her native Europe and America. A German, born in 1949, she studied with Kurt J 003, himself a pupil of Rudolf Laban. Laban laid down laws of harmonious spatial forms that the moving body describes in space. In Cafe Muller the relationship between the dancers and the set is an excellent example of this. Chairs and tables are constantly moved, often at high speed, to make way for hurtling bodies, and yet at

any given moment the stage is as balanced as a classical landscape.

Kurt J oos inherited this spatial clarity from Laban, and duly passed it on to Bausch, but his main interest was in a socially-conscious form of dance drama. His famous The Green Table, remounted for Lyon Opera Ballet in 1983, shows cunning masked politicians arguing around a green baize table. This was a ballet about war and death, and the sordid fact that people play power-games in the face of human suffering. There are no words but the meaning is clear. Although Bausch has used text (see, for example, Nelken

Bausch rarely dances these days, but this is her own special role and it will be worth watching the piece tor her artistry alone.

(Carnations 1982), there is no speech in Cafe Muller and there is no need for it. She has important things to say about the world in which she lives and communicates them accurately through her choreography.

With this Germanic background Bausch travelled across the ocean to attend the Juilliard School of Music in New York. There she was influenced by the Englishman Anthony Tudor, one of her teachers, who created characters by showing their psychological motivations through expressive gestures. It is the strength and sensitivity of an arm circle or head tilt that indicates the inner states of the women and men in Cafe Muller.

In 1962 Bausch joined Paul Taylor’s company, also in America. Taylor is known for his choreographic subtlety. In his work the subject matter is not overtly stated but implied through the dance itself. Likewise the meaning of Cafe Muller is manifest in the steps and the body attitudes, by the juxtaposition of woman to man, and dancer to music.

Like Mark Morris, fellow performer and choreographer at this year’s Festival, Bausch uses Purcell’s haunting songs to accompany Cafe Muller. While Morris has choreographed the entire opera of Dido and Aeneas using libretto and score with the music very much the inspiration, Bausch has utilised selected solos from Dido and Aeneas and The Faerie Queen as accompaniment to her theme, to stunning effect. Bausch rarely dances these days, but this is her own special role and it will be worth watching the piece for her artistry alone. In her white shift she resembles Donatello’s Pieta, with her ribs straining through her skin, and her graceful limbs curving and reaching with the music. She understands the plaintive singing so absolutely that the dance and music become one.

Sometimes it is claimed that the Edinburgh Festival does not benefit the on-going artistic life of Edinburgh and it is true that in the past the dance programmes have been somewhat weak. Pina Bausch, director of Wuppertal Tanztheater, however, makes world-class dance theatre and cannot help but be inspiring to Scottish choreographers and audiences alike.

Cafe Muller (International Festival) Pina Bausch, King’s Theatre, 225 5756, 3—5 Sept, 8pm, £5—£l8.50. ‘J