Vollmond, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Sadler’s Wells

If you are a Bausch newbie, Vollmond (Full Moon) may well be the place to start. “It’s a full moon,” says Nazareth Panadero, giving us a cynical smirk. “Don’t get drunk,” she adds before sauntering off. Glasses are raised and, as always in Bausch, water flows, both in and, especially, out of glasses, across the stage, swept in buckets-full over the massive rock that looms at the edge of a great pool of water lurking invisibly at the rear.

Vollmond was choreographed in 2006, just three years before Bausch’s terribly sudden death. In it she continued to explore her regular preoccupations – the ultimate incompatibility between men and women, random cruelties, violence and humour – and yet at the same time she had softened slightly. Here we are not subjected to her often gruelling longueurs, as in last week’s Two Cigarettes in the Dark, where she focuses on the emptiness of people’s lives by, precisely, filling her stage with emptiness.

This is an evening that flows as well as splashes

Here she has kept some of the (truth be told, slightly cheesy) good cheer of her “city” pieces of the 1990s, inspired by her travels, without the superficiality that sometimes resulted from a hop-in, hop-out visit. Mixed with her elemental love of water, elegantly lit by Fernando Jacon, this is an evening that flows as well as splashes, lapping around questions that Bausch has mined much more deeply, and more harshly, elsewhere.

Two men half-face each other, whipping their empty plastic water-bottles in unison, so that the mics pick up the whooshing sound they make; another two enter wielding canes. Now the sounds are sharper, harsher, before the four scramble out, the pattering of feet replacing the air rushing past – time rushing past?

There are few group scenes – it is nearly the end of the first half before 10 of the 12 dancers appear on stage together; and in the second half it again takes until the end of the act, when an orgiastic frenzy of splashing heralds the close in unison. Until then, couples meet, quarrel, slap and push. A woman instructs a man how to unsnap her bra – it’s a timed trial: “Women can’t wait,” she scolds. Another sits, her glass raised in a toast, so frozen that when her partner removes the glass, her hand remains raised, even as he lifts her elegant pleated skirt to tie her into a stylish black parcel.

Random pieces of dialogue float past, just as random cruelties do: a crawling woman is draped in pink fabric to become – ho-ho – a pink panther; “I wait I wait I wait I cry I cry then I wait I wait” laments another, scrubbing at herself with a lemon; two men take turns dropping a rock over the other, rolling neatly out of the way, theatre of cruelty meets music hall.

In fact, all is fairly serene for Bausch-land; this is pretty much Bausch-lite. It is not bad, just all a bit jaded, a bit of a Greatest Hits tour.

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