Last weekend saw the return of the Tanztheater Wuppertal of Pina Bausch, the eminent German modern dance choreographer, to the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. For this third season Pina Bausch's company of 22 dancers has brought a two-act work created in 1998 called "Masurca Fogo" (Mazurka of Fire) which was also performed at the Olympic Arts Festival in Sydney last autumn.
Bausch used an assortment of music - Portuguese music, tango, Brazilian waltzes, jazz, and pop songs. The unusual set consists only of a grey rocky cliff at the rear of the stage from which dancers frequently enter and then slide down into the ground. As in Bausch's earlier works, this piece comprises many seemingly unrelated episodes joined together, with a unifying theme of human suffering. Also there are frequent dialogues for the dancers, who even tried in Act 1 to speak in Chinese to please the local audience.
And typical of Bausch's style, there are interactions between performers and the audience, as in that episode in Act 1 where a sluttish female dancer repeatedly titillates the members of the audience in the front row by asking, "Where do you come from?". Act 2 starts off with pairs of dancers dancing on the gangways in the theatre's stalls area, which resembles a nightclub under the dim lighting.
Bausch certainly has an eye for theatrical effects. Act 1 has some memorable episodes. One section sees a girl with red balloons all over her body handing a cigarette to each of her male admirers who later unexpectedly use their cigarette to burst all her balloons. In another joke a tall girl is courted by a short boy who has to be lifted by his taller friend in order to kiss her.
And who can forget the female dancer carrying a chicken which nibbles at the pieces of a broken water melon strewn on the floor. The end of Act 1 has a funny water-splashing episode which gradually builds up to a climax with the presence of a giant walrus.
Act 2 has slightly less variety than Act 1 and at times suffers from longueurs. There is a loud quarrelling episode between dancers, and another unusual part in which the dancers erect a cabin in the middle of the stage. There is also a rowdy section with a tall blond dancer lifting each of his male colleagues who hurl themselves at him.
In terms of choreography, Bausch's various energetic allegro solos for her dancers are exciting. The company's dancers are quite impressive, especially a tall blond female dancer dressed in a nightie, and the tall blond dancer just mentioned.
This work also skilfully incorporates movie images projected on screens at the back and sides of the stage. In an episode in Act 1, the audience felt like being spectators of a latin carnival shown on the giant screen. Later the audience became passengers inside a bus. In Act 2 the audience was transported to a jungle at one point with cows hurling past. And towards the end we were located in the sea with waves splashing at us. The ending was set in spring with a blossoming of flowers.
All in all this was an entertaining dance theatre show, and better than the productions Pina Bausch brought on her company's two previous visits here in the 1990s.