“There is a quiet small fish, it’s moving very fast, up and down. The camera kind of follows but what happens if you watch, it looks like I’m moving. I’m standing on the spot, and actually, suddenly I move. I go very down suddenly I go very up, but I’m standing still. This is…very nice…I think, this movement, like I’m flying there or I’m in the water, I’m there too…” (Pina Bausch, 2006).
Pina Bausch (hereby referred to affectionately as Pina) surprised her audiences in 1995 with a rare appearance onstage for a solo in Danzon. She dances standing still against a huge projection of moving fishes. Moving in slow motion as if joining the fish underwater, Bausch stands somewhat discreetly, continuously reaching her longing arms upward and outward, then recalling them back near and around her torso. Her hair was drawn tightly back and she was dressed all in black—trousers, shoes, a top with a deep v-neck and tight sleeves to just below her elbows. In the recent performance of Danzon on 25-26 November 2011 in National Arts Centre, Ottawa, Pina’s solo was performed by a male dancer, one of the newest members of the Tanzteather Wuppertal. This decision speaks a lot about Pina’s investment in new talent and her fluid definition between masculinity and femininity.
Pina danced with her feet rooted to the floor as a still point above which the rest of her body—the upper torso, neck and arms floated in a smooth and continual flow. Her head responds to her initiating arms in an affectionate way. Her left hand gently pushed her perched head to the side and upwards. Her folding and unfolding movements seemed to turn things inside out and back again. The inward and outward rotation of her arms facilitates movement on the horizontal plane. Her constant change in the flow of shape can be described as folding or closing towards the centre or unfolding, opening out from the center. Her arms are always handling space in Laban’s term, gathering it toward the body or scattering it away from her body—movements of folding and unfolding, possessing and repulsing, sharing and excluding alludes to the organic cycling of outward and inward, the alternation between self and other, the dueling desires to reach out and to withdraw inwards. The subtle interplay among arms, neck, head and chest defines a lyrical movement style that is quintessential of Pina. The genius of Pina shines through in the blatant juxtaposition of extremes: beneath the mammoth fish, a frail figure stands emanating the smallest and gentlest gestures. What Pina does is extremely simple but it achieves a very powerful postural effect.
Pina raises her arms forward and overhead, spreads them to the side and gradually lowers them. By doing so, she delineates the spatial zone of her arms as if surfacing from the water. When she circles her head around her neck, she describes the spatial zone of her head like a fish frolicking underwater. Laban contends how “space imagination (intent) and spatial power (spatial initiation) enliven the muscle and transmit the intent to move skeletal parts… When we look at the expression of a pulling muscle, we see that the smallest quiver is as significant as the largest leverlike movement” (Bartenieff, 229). Bausch navigates her arms and head with such concise intention that she requires very minimal movement vocabulary to achieve her narration. Her spatial intent and initiation in each movement sequence is persuasive enough to yield the visual illusion of her moving in water.
The combination of one-dimensional and diagonal directions in her feet opens up the body for easy three-dimensional turning away from and towards itself, as well as for extending and contracting movements in all directions on the vertical and horizontal planes. Pina’s feet, rooted to the ground with weight evenly distributed, provides resiliency for her occasional weight shifts. Her weight shifts back and she sinks into the back leg as she indulges her head in a full rotation. Her groundedness is coupled with precise use of the upper body parts. Her arm movement leading the spatial patterns of the upper body is not merely a peripheral move. Supported by a central initiation and the groundedness of her feet positions, Pina maintains balance even as the body weight shifts for a release of energy through her head rotation.
Pina’s body is relaxed enough in readiness for transition into the next movement phrase. The dynamic alignment of her body forms a connectedness that allows her movement impulse to flow through her body in such a way that complete activation can be realized most efficiently without unnecessary exertion and stress. Still, Pina is constantly renewing her awareness of the causes of tensions, both internal and external: the spatial intent, the interchange of opposing forces, effort combinations, and relationship to the physical and emotional environment. “Delineations of character and mood are evoked by their rhythmical associations with the body tensions they reflect” (Bartenieff, 71). Her meditative form of dancing can be achieved even without music due to her sensitivity to the rhythms of body tensions and her indifference to rigid, symmetrical rhythmical patterns. Her movements not bound by metricality have a free, irregular time-rhythm leading to more expressive and dynamic interpretation. “Rhythm is not just a duration of time, accentuated by stresses. It is also the result of the interaction of Effort combinations with variations in spatial patterns. It is not just the activity that identifies the behavior but it is the sequence and phrasing with their distinctive rhythms that express and reinforce verbal and emotional content” (Bartenieff, 73).
There is a constant recurring theme in Pina Bausch’s dances, that of circularity and repetition. In this solo, the sequence pattern of ABBCA proves her predilection for ending the way a piece begins or a return to the origin. The phrases are arranged in such a way each exertion is followed by recuperation before the next exertion in another phrase. Exertion-recuperation rhythms are inherent in preparatory action and main action sequences. An arm swing away from her body represents the exertion phase and toward the body as recuperation. The former action can also be seen as preparatory in its swinging out towards space and the latter, a condensed movement close to the body as the main action. When performed in repetitions, Pina’s phrasings of exertion and recuperation can be rather monotonous but it can also intensify the response to a mundane gesture which somehow always manage to accumulate tremendous emotional impact.
Pina’s spatial intent, rhythmic flow, initiation, exertions, recuperations,—all enrich the continuous floating effort as subtly exerted in her gestures. As a basic effort, her floating is flexible, sustained and light. It is also slow and tends to lack direction, even to the point of aimlessness. Pina floats like a fish underwater to exude buoyancy and weightlessness in action—spreading out, expanding, indulging and going with the flow. Interestingly, the multi-lateral counter-tensions produce a hypnotic kind of sustainment in time and space.
Of all the inner attitudes, the Dreamlike Mode of Flow-Weight best describes Pina’s incomplete efforts or mental efforts preceding actions. Bausch’s aura is haunting because she is engaged yet ever so remotely. Her figure is frail and her eyes veiled as she strokes her skin and waves her arms as if slipping away. Her inward gaze betrays a mind that is constantly preoccupied in thinking yet not completely unaware of the space around her and the sense of her own body. She senses her airy and delicate weight, creating light impact using fine touches, neither rushing nor delaying in her own leisurely pace. Pina’s ability in externalizing her inner participation makes her performance so engaging as it requires a synthesis of both kinesthetic and thought processes to be functioning simultaneously at different levels of consciousness.
In Effort terms, Pina’s performance lends its spellbinding effect to her choice of not using Time with Weight; she only uses Direct or Indirect Space and shades of Weight with variations in Flow. In the Spell drive, also referred to as timeless drive, space and weight become dominant and stabilizes the movement. Without time’s sense of urgency or delay to loosen the stability, the steadfastness of space and weight becomes inevitable. With the easing in of flow, a spell-like intensity is created in the movements. In the last phrase, Pina saunters offstage waving reticently at and beyond the audience, perhaps hinting to the audience how her spell will linger even after she is gone.