Pina does Japan…In L.A.

Performance review by Benn Widdey 

tenchi.jpgPina Bausch came to Los Angeles with her seventeen member Tanztheater Wuppertal and performed her 2004 travelogue-inspired take on Japan, “Ten Chi” November 8-11, 2007. Amidst a blizzard of excitement, she did not fail to appease the thousands who were able to witness this return trip to southern California at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

In her typical fashion of integrating movement, image, spoken word, music and set, the highly acclaimed director of this state supported internationally renowned performance company treated the audiences to oohs and aahs, giggles and an occasional empathetic tear. Through her ensemble of terrifically talented performers, Ms. Baush ran an almost three hour series of solos that suggested a tourist’s impression of this ancient and contemporary nation.

Against an ever-changing assortment of sound scores that ranged from ambient electronics to driving taiko drums, each dancer/actor displayed a different characteristic element of this Pacific Asian culture. Beginning with a rather classic dance evoking traditional Japanese movement styles–expressive curlicue hand gestures, angular arms and soft pillowed steps–Ditta Miranda Jasjfi, dressed in a form-fitting yellow gown (costumes designed by Marion Cito) is then enveloped by the arms of a man wearing black evening wear with an open collar. This man lifts and tilts her into a horizontal position where she effortlessly swims around the large whale tale-like sculpture that unobtrusively stands tall on the stage (set design by Peter Pabst). Soon Dominique Mercy enters and approaches the audience to ask each individual there if she or he would snore. He models the sound he’s looking for and proceeds along the row. Nazareth Panadero comes to the first row of the audience at another point to count the fingers of the viewers’ raised and splayed hands.

When the music gets more pop and energized, a series of men run onto the stage with large space-eating locomotion punctuated by rapid and precise arm, hand and head gestures. One right after another, it becomes difficult to single out any specific dancer, yet easy to marvel at their quasi-slight-of-hand virtuosity. There are some literal and comical references to Japanese language and technology when deep-voiced Mechthild Grossmann recites a list of Japanese words that have become familiar in the English-speaking world: kimono, samurai, geisha, sushi, Mt. Fuji and more. Fernando Suels Mendoza stands and identifies electronic products by their Japanese manufacturers: Sony, Hitachi, Panasonic, Toyota, Mitsubishi, etc. and another text-driven moment refers to the stereotypical apologetic Japanese citizen.

The lengthy piece continues and, after having begun with a single “flake” floating down to the stage, by the end we are witnessing a true downpour cascading onto the can’t-be-stopped dancers. This visceral and visually breath-taking finale comes to a conclusion, but the snowstorm doesn’t end. Aside from the more humorous segments mentioned, the second act failed to shed new light on Bausch’s take on the culture, but no one interrupted her stream-of-consciousness. It was well worth the ride. The artist may not be brandishing new territories as she did when she first exploded on the international dance scene 25 years ago, but what she does do, she does so well.

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