Too Much of a Good Thing

Bausch’s Nefés at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

Pina Bauschââ¬â¢s Nefés at The Brooklyn Academy of Music. Photo by Stephanie Berger.

Bare-chested men, wrapped in long white towels traipse on stage. Women blow air into sacks filled with water and soap. Bubbles form. Lots and lots of bubbles.

“That is me in the hammam,” a man explains. Thus begins Pina Bausch’s dance-theater homage to the city of Istanbul, Nefés, which means “breath” in Turkish. For approximately the next three hours, Nefés continues complete with all of the Bauschian trademarks—an abundant amount of one of the five earth elements (in this case water), hyper-feminized women donned in floor-length dresses that flutter flirtatiously throughout, direct addresses to the audience, absurdist skits and a good dose of humor.

A work of collage, Bausch draws inspiration from this city that lies at the entrance to the East. In addition to a staged hammam, Nefés celebrates the stirring largess of Istanbul—its nightclubs, frighteningly erratic traffic, the haggling and bargaining of the bazaar and even the famed Bosphorus, which makes an appearance as a large, well, err, puddle, taking up half the stage. This is an odd choice since it disrupts the stage space and limits the dancers, and thus, the choreography’s geography. Though Bausch does at times make interesting use of it—dancers sloshing through, a floating tea service.

These vignettes, which work as a disconnected travelogue, are interspersed with a series of solos and duets. Fast-moving and adroit, each solo seems a variation on a theme of twirling, fast and frenetic, arms thrown in isolation, the body following. The solos for the men are particularly compelling—a mix of acrobatics and modern dance—they are viscerally immediate, almost frenzied. But there are also moments of dreamy surrealism too, as when one woman seems to literally walk on air, two men flanking her as she climbs an imaginary staircase. In fact, women are often supported, or, more aptly, tossed around in a Bausch work—Bausch always one for commenting on women’s passive roles within the patriarchal hierarchy. And, if they are tossed, it’s beautifully done. In Nefés a woman is held horizontally, stiff as a plank. She’s spun round by first one, then another and yet another man until she’s set upright, stumbling and grasping for balance. Another woman is cradled and twirled, the man’s palm serving as a kind of platform, all the while the dresses fluttering madly.

Bausch is fond of party scenes. As in her other works, she celebrates sociability and gathering, bodies moving in joy and in unison. That is not absent here. A wedding reception is staged. There is much mingling, laughter, and, soon, a group photo is taken and the revelers wave farewell to the departing bride and groom. One wants to join in the fun, wear one of those gorgeous dresses and drink champagne. Of all the larger group tableaus, the most striking comes at the end and puts the Bosphorus “puddle” to good use. Women in flower-hued dresses, line the perimeter of the Bospheros, their images reflected back like a line of paper dolls.

The vignettes leave one with a series of visual Turkish delights; they are like postcards laid end to end. But for all its beauty and humor, Nefés is far too long. There are too many solos, too many hammams, too many twirling women. Bausch is known for her long works which are more like theatrical tour-de-forces for both dancers and audience members than a quick evening jaunt to the theater. But audiences (this audience member included) seem willing to give up three hours of their evenings to savor Bausch who makes New York appearances every two to three years. But one wonders why these works have to be so long and why Nefés in particular? It’s as if Bausch were single-handedly trying to reverse audiences ever-shortening attention spans. I don’t think it’s working.

Contributor

Vanessa Manko

VANESSA MANKO was the former Dance Editor for the Brooklyn Rail.

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