The late Pina Bausch is to dance as Stravinsky is to music or Picasso to art: a modern warper, an unraveler, of classical forms. As I watched Wim Wenders’ documentary last year about the late German choreographer, I was awed. I had never seen people move that way before, blending classical grace with modern angularity, dancers who contort, flail, flop, fall, jerk, carry each other, drag each other, crawl across the floor, collapse in on themselves, get pulled in unnatural directions by invisible forces—or who simply lay face down on the floor, as Orpheus does in the first movement of Bausch’s avant-garde adaptation of Gluck’s surprisingly familiar opera score for Orpheus and Eurydice, which the Paris Opera Ballet performed at the Koch Theater this weekend as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. Such an anguished Orpheus, to match such mournful music.
Bausch’s Orpheus is told in four movements—Mourning, Violence, Peace, Death—with three characters (and a chorus), each played by a dancer and a female singer who occupy the stage together. Bausch is conscious of, and nimbly exploits, such contrasts: between sound and movement, between colors, between bodies and the shapes they can form. In Peace, Bausch shows off her facility with classical elegance, particularly in the group dances, intricate tableaux of crisscrossed limbs—a forest of bodies. But she’s most affecting when she discards tradition. Eurydice’s second death—unlike Gluck, who rewrote the myth to give it a happy ending, Bausch restores its tragic finale—was among the most moving things I’ve seen on a stage in quite a while: Eurydice’s singer dead on the floor, the dancer too draped over her, as the Orpheus singer sat over them and sang a lament. In the corner, the Orpheus dancer crouched still, with his back to the audience, for what must have been… five? Ten minutes? Bausch knew how to utilize movement but also its cessation. The woman sitting next to me sobbed and sobbed. Who wouldn’t?
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