Pina Bausch first made the dance piece Kontakthof at the Tanztheater Wuppertal with her company in 1978. The piece was revived in 2000 with dancers over 65 years old and in 2008 with teenagers. It has been described as ‘Chorus line of awkward seductions, unease and discomfort’
I saw the piece at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London with the company of performers aged 65 years and older. It had a profound effect on me and images still stay with me many years later. I saw the young company years later on film and in the Wim Wenders’ film ‘Pina’ I saw the three different versions intercut from young, old and professional company and then back again in a different order.
One of the crucial elements of the piece was my fascination with the people who were the performers.
Who were they? What was their life like? Why were they performing this piece? How had they got involved? They were performers performing intense choreography but at the same time they we not performing, they were being themselves.
As an audience I am interested in two things as I watch the performers 1. Who they are and 2. What they do.
In her review in the Guardian, Judith Mackrell wrote:
“Unsurprisingly, the teenage dancers inhabited a different physical universe, one of thick, glossy hair, peachy-smooth skin and limber joints. And unsurprisingly, the effect on Bausch’s choreography was galvanic – the shapes of the movement looked much sharper on these younger bodies, the rhythms accelerated. But the sense of time and place was less focused than in the seniors’ performance. Were these teenagers, dressed in formal evening dress and dancing to 1930s tunes, the grandchildren of the senior cast, or the ghosts of their youthful selves?
These differences were intriguing and touching, but for me the teens’ performance fell far short of the seniors’, which was rich in surreal comedy and human interest. Kontakthof is about the games people play in order to communicate; the older cast were able to bring a more knowing, cussed, tender, disruptive life to the material. Next to them, the teens appeared almost generic.
As a choreographer, Bausch had nothing to do with political correctness, but in this one brilliantly inventive act of casting she exposed the poverty of our ageist culture – particularly when applied to dance. The 65-plus men and women who performed Kontakthof not only gave the lie to the notion that we become invisible as we age; they demonstrated that we can look significantly more vital and alive.”
So who were the performers? In the two later versions a team of teenagers aged between 14 and 18 years old and a group of pensioners aged over 65.
Ordinary people doing extraordinary things and being themselves at the same time. I glimpsed a reflection of human beings at different stages of their lives and it filled me with wonder and amazement at the beauty, the vulnerability and the love that people can share with each other across generations.