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    The beginning: Rainer Behr in Pina Bausch: Vollmond
    Photo by Julieta Cervantes
    The beginning: Rainer Behr

    Impossible Water

    Pina Bausch's Vollmond (Full Moon) finds water on the moon


    I have never seen someone take so little and make so much; Pina Bausch squeezes water out of a rock and epiphanies from thin air in Vollmond (Full Moon), and she makes two and a half hours disappear, magically.

    Choreography by: Pina Bausch.
    Dancers: Pablo Aran Gimeno, Rainer Behr, Ditta Miranda Jasjfi, Dominique Mercy, Nazareth Panadero, Helena Pikon, Jorge Puerta Armenta, Julie Anne Stanzak, Michael Strecker, Fernando Suels Mendoza, Tsai-Chin Yu.
    Music by: René Aubry, Alexander Balanescu, Carl Craig, Siegfried Ganhor, Nenad Jelic, Leftfield, Mirasma, Jun Miyake, Magyar Posse, Cat Power, Amon Tobin, Tom Waits.
    Set design by: Peter Pabst.
    Costumes by: Marion Cito.
    Brooklyn Academy of Music
    September 29 to October 9, 2010

    An arid rock, massive and half-lit, looks just like a moon photo from NASA. Two men with empty water bottles enter, to remind us there is no water on the moon and to open the action with the first of many clever and unrelated bits of theater-play, swinging the bottlemouths fast enough to whooosh them. Like most male-male encounters here, playful competition bubbles between aggression and fun. In a first solo, Rainer Behr repeatedly jumps, falls and rises, to an endless simple synth loop, dancing against futility. In the first male-female encounter, after a running Tsai-Chin Yu is caught by two men from jumping offstage, she gives an angry kiss-off, all the way across the stage, to another's seemingly innocent kiss request. Women in Vollmond enjoy the attentions of men, except when they don't.

    And there is plenty of male-female back-and-forth, often involving women playing with men like the obedient dogs they wish them to be. But one odd, and eerie, sense that recurs — given that Pina Bausch died just last year — is that women are ghosts or haunting spirits, floating around stage or standing frozen. Perhaps this is a female version of Behr's trapped solo. Darkness is constantly wrestled into light, though. A solo by Ditta Miranda Jasjfi that begins with bitter syllables of "ha" becomes by the end a bout of uncontrollable laughter taking her to the floor. And gags like that, dangerous in less intense hands, are made powerful by Bausch's performers. There are some strong personalities onstage, especially among the women characters. Nazareth Panadero's grand dame in a red dress has lived a rich and lusty life, and she shares nuggets and pithy gems each time she appears. Younger characters insist on enjoying life and being acknowledged by the world; older ones wrestle with lemons and invisibility but stay fierce in their core even as they flirt with self-destruction.

    The end: Azusa Seyama in Pina Bausch: Vollmond
    Photo by Julieta Cervantes
    The end: Azusa Seyama

    But the magic of Vollmond begins with the first hint of water, a hint so subtle and fleeting we are left wondering if it really happened. In a second hint, the sound of rain reaches us before the sight, and the effect sets off waves of associations — with rain, with summer, with impossible water on the moon, with each person's own water memories. As the stage, and the performers, get more deeply wet, these perceptions of water shift and change, too. Water becomes the life that we dive into, or avoid: sex; experience; sensations of rapture or despair.

    Games men and women play in love and lust make the meat of the piece. There are moments of innocence and joy, but most interactions are more twisted, as in the opening kiss-off, or in another where hair-yanking precedes passionate kisses. Humor is never far, though. Azusa Seyama, for instance, times and chides her boyfriend's attempts to remove her bra, then later reacts in annoyance and a little pain as another slaps her around a bit and then hurts his hand, at which she instinctively says "Sorry!" Solos often seem to be tortured reactions to love, but a moonlit group scene of swimsuited couples, women in high heels and fifties-style suits, is quiet and sultry, and a group dance that begins with all dancing in sync as if in a nightclub, and ends with all pounding the ground between their spread legs and falling back onto their elbows, has a sort of we're-all-in-this-together quality that is both sweet and mutually frustrated, and ends the piece as the light fades.

    Pina Bausch addresses so many different layers of life at the same time, in a mixture of seemingly shallow humor and viscerally deep sensations. Numerous one-liners and short physical comedy bits over the course of two and a half hours mix easily with cathartic, physical dancing and ethereal moments of lighting and theatrical illusion. And the performers in this Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch have gained all our respect and compassion by the time they stand drenched in front of us, exhausted from trying to obliterate, or cleanse, the moonrock and each other in an orgy of splashing water.

    OCTOBER 7, 2010

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