The American West, According to Bausch --The U.S. premiere of 'Nur Du' is three-plus hours of nonlinear neo-Expressionism, powered by brilliant dancing. It comes to L.A. on Thursday.

By LEWIS SEGAL, L.A. Times Dance Critic


BERKELEY--Perhaps the cruelest disappointment of Pina Bausch's latest dance-theater epic "Nur Du" (Only You) is how little time it spends satirizing its ostensible subject: the people of the American West. After all, what's the point in living here if foreigners and Easterners don't call us unsophisticated, and Southerners and Midwesterners don't call us immoral?

Commissioned by six Western arts presenters, "Nur Du" received its American premiere in Zellerbach Hall at UC Berkeley on Thursday, and came within 10 minutes of ending on Friday due to a late start and a generous intermission. Pickets out front gave the evening a classic Berkeley ambience by protesting declining American arts support in general and their own poverty in particular. "Will Dance for Food" promised one hand-made sign. "Can't Afford to See Pina" complained another.

A double calamity. Bausch's celebrated Tanz-theater Wuppertal last appeared in California12 years ago at the Olympic Arts Festival in Pasadena and since then she has created for the company a series of internationally acclaimed, site-specific works drawn from experiences and observations in Lisbon, Palermo, Madrid and Vienna. "Nur Du," however, is her first such work made outside Europe--shaped by visits earlier this year to the presenting cities and, most of all, by a residency at UCLA. It will open at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Thursday.

However, local color isn't exactly Bausch's focus. In three-and-a-half hours of nonlinear neo-Expressionism, she does provide one cryptic collage of Hollywood one-liners complete with film clips from "Dark Victory" and "The Postman Always Rings Twice." There's also a character vignette featuring an insanely overenthusiastic cheerleader (Julie Stanzak) and a glimpse of a Venice skater--with water bottles on his feet instead of skates. So much for Americana.

Otherwise, the work is less preoccupied with a sense of place than displacement--another chapter in Bausch's career-long quest for a true home where people who hunger for love can find it, where women are respected, where popular entertainment is more than a big lie, where human eccentricity is not merely tolerated but cherished. This particular chapter may be located in a grove of giant redwoods (designed by Bausch's longtime collaborator Peter Pabst) and it may feature a visit from a flying whale, but the issues are no different than those in "1980," a piece Bausch made before her company ever visited America.

What "Nur Du" has that "1980" didn't is plenty of dancing--much of it brilliant. Six minutes into the piece, Rainer Behr launches an unforgettable high-speed solo full of whiplash limbs, lightning slides, sudden suspensions of ravishing delicacy and an engulfing, use-it-or-lose-it intensity as if he's been waiting his whole life to dance like this.

This solo becomes adapted by other men throughout the evening--with Daphnis Kokkinos especially impressive at the opening of Act 2. But nobody betters Behr except Behr himself in a dazzling recapitulation six minutes from the end.

Between these two movement milestones come a number of whimsical character vignettes capped by disarming non sequiturs, a series of ensemble dances, the developing relationships of various couples plus text-and-mime episodes steeped in feminism and consistently outspoken about women's collaboration in their own victimization.

Dressed in slinky evening gowns by costume designer Marion Cito, the Bausch women repeatedly hike up their skirts and drop their tops, get wrapped in plastic like floral displays, suspended by the hair, painted and drawn upon--yet clamor for more. "He's got me!" screams Helena Pikon, running onto the stage in terror. Then, looking into the wings, she wails, "No, he's not got me!"

In their work clothes and occasional forays into evening wear, nudity and drag, the men seem equally intent on manipulating the women and the environment: scaling and disfiguring the redwoods in the name of easy access, destroying sets of paper houses and faking a beach vacation by using a pocketful of sand to walk upon, a half-empty water bottle for ocean noise and a hand-sprayer for the feel of the surf.

Life can be beautiful if nothing shatters such illusions. "You know, if something happens to you, call 911," Andrei Berezine advises the audience as he sinks complacently into a rocking chair, a man with the answer to every problem. Bausch doesn't exactly buy into his worldview but she displays great compassion for the congenitally deluded--even for the arrogant landlord (Dominique Mercy) who stalks through the forest primeval proclaiming, "As far as you can see, all of this is mine!"

As "Nur Du" winds back on itself in its final hour, some viewers will assemble its components into their idea of a Bauschian manifesto, while others will let its succession of dreamlike episodes resonate uninterpreted. Still others will leave or sleep. Any which way, it qualifies as a major event--a fragile, intuitive humanist vision working itself out through the skill and energy of two-dozen accomplished artists and in the consciousness of 2,000 viewers.

The Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal performs "Nur Du" Thursday through next Saturday at 8 p.m. and next Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, L.A. Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave. $20-$75. (213) 972-7211 or (310) 825-2101.

Copyright Los Angeles Times


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