No half measures
There was no halfway house with Pina Bausch. As my editor remarked earlier today, you were either a devotee or sceptic, and if a devotee you were very devoted. There will be many tributes to Pina Bausch in the next few days - I'm writing one myself. So this is just a memory. Of the first time.
For many years, Bausch's company (Tanztheater Wuppertal) didn't appear in London - there was no stage suitable for her intimate epics. Only when Sadler's Wells refurbished did she return. And the first show was Viktor.
I was ill that day, with the winter sniffles, and feeling unprepared for my first encounter with a choreographer noted for her gruelling demands. Four hours later, I emerged exhilarated. This was art made during and about a long, bad century - it offers a social veneer then crushes it underfoot like the carpet of pink carnations in Nelken. There's a collective and individual pain, in the bone and in the society. But also astonishing was what Bausch believed you could put on stage, and how long you could keep it there.
I thought I'd seen extremity on stage, but it was almost impossible to believe how long she was prepared to extend a sequence, how many repetitions she would demand of her dancers, how much attention she would ask of us. A stark example: in Viktor, a woman is used as a water pump. She swallows, her body is worked like a lever, she blurts out water. It seems like a fairly simple metaphor for male cruelty. Except that Bausch repeats and repeats the sequence, until we're feeling it and dreading it, and then almost getting used to it. It becomes a terror, and then a habit - which is terrifying.
We never pay enough attention - and performance rarely goes at a speed which makes it possible. But Bausch made it not only possible, but unavoidable. As with the loss of any great artist, I feel bereft - because now I'll have to do it for myself, make myself look hard, feel keenly.