1980: Dreaming with Pina

Tonight I entered a dream: I watched 1980 by the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch at Sadler’s Wells, which is a piece by Pina Bausch, and I’m still reeling from it.

Pina Bausch is a choreographer who has “renewed the brand of dance theatre”; she doesn’t abide by the rules or techniques of dance, though she chooses dancers based on their movement qualities. Your body is on the stage dancing because it is full of life – you are alive. The company does not adhere or at least, tries to leave dance techniques behind and would rather have the actor physicalize their emotions in response to a provoking question she asks than reproducing what his/her body already knows. Her work is so striking and powerful because it’s from the heart. Dance, in Bausch’s terms, is personal and unlimited: “the dancer’s body in Bausch’s work always exceeds the bounds of movement any performer enacts, and the presence that is developed enforces our seeing past the movement to the person underneath and cultural codes as they are incorporated.” Before the show started, a classmate told me that Cate Blanchett was rejected after she auditioned to work with Bausch, because Bausch said she was “too famous”. Bausch is extremely picky when choosing her dancers too – she doesn’t work with people who wear their hearts on their sleeves. Rather, she starts from scratch with those who do not open up easily.

In 1980, the stage was covered in fake grass. Actors could peel and roll back the grass strips, revealing the “dirt” underneath it. One woman danced on the grass with a sprinkler as it sprayed water all over her, two actors played “Fisherman, fisherman, how deep is the water?” and ran around trying to ‘tag’ each other, like two children reliving their childhood in the backyard of their house. It was one dazzling picnic with lots of sunshine. The music was so provoking and comical, and all the performers were kids, adults and themselves at the same time. But some scenes were heart wrenching as well. Like the way some females scattered around the stage started wrapping their male partners up in cloth that made them look like corpses when others were performing various odd acts alongside them. It seemed to me like death and play were intertwined, flowing and overlapping each other, which is probably due to the fact that 1980 didn’t have a distinct narrative structure. It felt like I was watching the playback of a memory, and it was literal heaven on earth. 1980 was also the year Bausch finished the three hour long piece and the year her partner died.

These were the thoughts that ran through my head as I watched the performance: 

I want to roll on that grass/I want to go on stage now/I wonder if Ken would like this, nah he’d probably fall asleep/why are important people in my life mostly Capricorns?/My scarf smells like mushroom/My hands smell like grilled chicken juice – must have oozed out from the burrito I had for dinner/I love that dress/I wanna learn all their signature moves/I don’t want to walk up Egham Hill/Would Pina Bausch let me join her company?/Probably not, I share too much/Why can’t I keep secrets?/Wow people are so vulnerable/hey, God loves Pina too/I wish Pina was still alive/Is Elle eating an apple/How did Melissa guess that I’m a Sagittarius???/Train train train

There was a particular scene where a man was telling a chair how beautiful it was. He stood on a platform, spoke into a microphone, and complimented the chair before him even though he knew it was a non-living thing. He used phrases and sentences like “sensitively constructed”, “you even have a backrest” and “I hope that one day, you’ll give me a small sign”.  It was hilarious and I laughed so hard at how ridiculous it was but I really wanted to cry and run away. Because I saw myself. I’m like that about objects. I lost an earring tonight. It’s probably lying somewhere on the London Waterloo platform in the cold. Meh, big deal. But most of all, there have been so many times I wish someone spoke like that about me. I wish someone wanted my attention that badly – I wish someone would do crazy things for me. I wish I was an earring and someone was missing me as badly as I miss mine. And it’s so annoying and thick of me to want to be the most important person in someone’s life. It’s so egotistic, and it’s disgusting. I’m so possessive. I’m so human. I got angry with myself after watching that scene, but I ran it all off in the cold when we sprinted like wild hyenas to the train station.

It’s even worse when you use the word “boyfriend” and it sounds foreign to you.

1980 slapped me so hard on the face tonight, and it’s not something I can watch again for the time being. Don’t get me wrong, I love honest stuff. I love stuff that catches you off guard. I loved it, but Bausch’s productions are not pieces I can keep up with emotionally even if they are cathartic. The actors were so committed. But most importantly, they were not only on that stage reproducing 1980 again for Pina, they were there for themselves. Themselves. Selves. Self. Personally, I’m still trying to find a compromise; I’m desperately trying to find myself in a connected world that I feel largely disconnected from. Did I also mention that I’m a fleeting person? I can never fathom how someone can be so painfully faithful to another, because I fizzle out all the time. It’s not even about romantic relationships, it’s with everyone. I thought about the piece and witnessed how it brought so many things out of me during those three hours. I was confronted just the way I like to be once in a little while, but felt myself slinking away anyway. I was thinking about myself as a Christian in relation to the play as well, how humanistic this world is, how everything is truly connected and how I’m so lost but in God, I am found. Do you know what it feels like to be found? I don’t feel holy, I don’t feel set apart, but I feel understood. That’s all.

This is why my close friends are people I trust with my life – because they know that I’m fiercely loyal and they are too. You might be thinking, “aren’t they enough?” You’re right. They are. Some days when I believe I don’t have much favour with my friends here, I’m wrong. I even used to think that it’s a give and take; I don’t have much favour from friends at church because I have so much love from friends in school. But really, I’ve gained so much favour in my friendships with beautiful people and personalities I’ve met last/this year and it’s bursting at the seams.

I also thought about the postmodern culture all of us are a part of and so unknowingly steeped in. What if the “you-don’t-understand-me” isn’t simply a ‘teenager/young adult’ thing? I was assigned to present about Frederic Jameson and his stand against the postmodernist mindset in class today. I drank Red Bull straight before class, but it was more than just the sugar high talking. I wanted to start a revolution. Jameson wrote:

“If we do not achieve some general sense of a cultural dominant,
then we fall back into a view of present history as sheer HETEROGENEITY,
RANDOM DIFFERENCE,
a coexistence of a host of DISTNCT FORCES
whose effectivity is UNDECIDABLE.”

Whereby the dilemma is “the incapacity of our minds…to  map the great global multinational and decentered network in which we find ourselves caught individual subjects.”

Isn’t that true? Sometimes it feels this way. Aren’t we all just a bunch of individual signifiers with shallow, signified meanings that try to clamber over each other’s?

I wonder what Pina would have said if I told her I take myself too seriously. I wonder what she would have said if I told her being laughed at in a mocking way hurts me more than anything. Also, the words I hate saying most are, “I don’t get it.” I find myself saying them quite often now. Maybe it’s because I’m in another country, I don’t know. But I’d like to physicalize all these emotions and perform them one day. To be yourself on stage is a huge privilege. And one more thing I know is that Pina’s spirit will forever be fresh and alive in my head, dancing away on lush, green grass that’s actually real. 

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