Pina Bausch's reinvention of "The Rites of Spring" in 1975 and its impact on dance

Seminar Paper, 2016

22 Pages, Grade: 2:1

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Table of Contents

i. Pina Bausch: An Introduction
ii. Pina Bausch and her collaboration with Kurt Jooss
iii. Acting practitioner Bertolt Brecht, and his influence

i. Introduction: The Rites of Spring 1913
ii. The Rite of Spring 1975
iii. Pina Bausch’s Methodologies

i. Pina Bausch’s Influence on the development of dance theatre




How did Pina Bausch’s reinvention of The Rites of Spring in 1975 impact dance, and is she still influential today?

‘It has been critically acknowledged that the development of what has been loosely termed ‘physical theatre’ has marked one of the most significant trends in dance and theatre’ (Colberg, A 2007 pg.21). Pina Bausch a contemporary dance practitioner was one of the few artists that ‘changed the landscape’ (Mackrell, J 2002) of modern dance. ‘She has basically reinvented dance’ (Forsythe, W 2010) tackling the heights and hells of human nature, many pieces focusing on human frailty and brutality, the power and pity of personal relationships particularly between men and women. Bausch was born in 1940 in Solingen, receiving training at The Folkwang School in Essen and The Juilliard School in New York, where she engaged as a choreographer from Autumn 1973 and since has ‘changed how we perceive theatre and dance’ (Giannachi, G & Luckhurst, M 1999 pg. 113).

I will be examining the work of Pina Bausch, choreographer of the ensemble Tanztheater Wuppertal, focusing on the ‘masterpiece’ (Smith, C 2013) that was The Rites of Spring in 1975, a reinvention of an original ballet performed by the Ballet Russe in 1913, choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky, and composed by Igor Stracinsky. For Bausch movement was to be the secondary focus with a development and denouement of the piece. I will bring attention to how The Rites of Spring tackles the male and female relationship through balletic contemporary choreography, questioning Bausch’s development on dance and education today. Drawing upon some of her other pieces such as Kontakthof (1978) and Café Muller (1978), I will explore the methodologies used and whether these methods have influenced other practitioners and if her work is still relevant today.

Chapter One will analyse the early stages of Pina Bausch, looking at her influences by practitioners such as Kurt Jooss, Antony Tudor, Bertolt Brecht and Rudolf von Laban, alongside her influences socially and politically creating choreography post World War II, showing influence of both German and European theatre. Joos was ‘a significant propound of pre- and post-war German modern dance which had freed itself from the shackles of classical ballet’ (Servos, N. Unknown) who influenced the expressionist choreography of Pina Bausch. Antony Tudor one of Bausch’s many instructors’ ‘strong psychological style, with its emphasis on character built upon emotive gesture, reawakened and reconfigured some of Bausch’s earlier experiences with emotive gesture in the German dance tradition’ (Climenhaga, R 2009 pg. 6) this is present throughout the choreography of her early and later works, which has been heavily influenced by Tudors approach to choreography. Being a choreographer of the early 1970’s Pina Bausch saw the isolation of German modern dance, with the rise of the Nazis and war, ‘in the 1940’s modern dance lost its strength and classical ballet flourished.’ (Tashiri, M. 1999) Young dancers felt constrained by the formality of German ballet and American post-modern dance, therefore rebelled against the Americanization of their country. Bausch went against this movement and helped revive expressionist dance in a post war Germany. ‘What she was moving towards was both a different kind of dance – or content. She revived German traditions of expressionism, notably Ausdruckstanz, or expressive dance, which had been popular in the interwar years and had influenced her early training’, (Allain, P & Harvie, J. 2006 pg. 23) moving away from the conservative classical dance.

In Chapter Two I will study Bausch’s reinvention of the original ballet in 1913, her methodologies used throughout choreography and the outcome of her reinvention over sixty years later. The Rites of Spring based on the Pagan fertility ritual explores themes of gender construction and the opposition of sexes; ‘Bausch is very aware of the plight of women in contemporary society, and the imagery she chooses to reflect that concern’ (Climenhaga, R 1995 pg. 31), throughout this chapter I will analyse the feminist and gender theories of Le Sacre du Printemps and how it was portrayed through the artistic direction. Western European dance theatre had a big influence on Bausch’s direction, ‘in the 1970’s and 1980’s Europe in particular saw an explosion of theatre and performance work that was influenced by developments in dance and performance art’ (Gale, M & Deeney, J 2012 pg. 684). I will examine her approach to the dancers and the choreography, how this transfers through to the performance and their development of character.

Chapter Three will examine Bausch’s influence on current practitioners and choreographers such as physical theatre companies DV8 and Theatre de Complicite, as well as her impact on dance education and dance theatre. Looking at her own company Tanztheater Wuppertal and determining whether the methodologies of the company have changed since Pina Bausch’s death in 2009. Pina Bausch tackled boundary breaking themes and in turn ‘may now be the most important single figure in European Modern Dance’ (Anderson, J 1989). She not only tackled dramatic and deep emotional themes through her choreography but her ‘dancers also break conventional rules about age and shape’ (Hoggart, L 2012). In accordance to this, I will discuss her influence on the progression of dance and explore the movement of The Rites of Spring, and how a change in social society effects the acceptance of breaking traditional structure and choreography.


i. Pina Bausch: An Introduction

Pina Bausch was born in 1940 in Solingen, a small town in Germany, born in the midst of World War II she was to become ‘one of Germanys most acclaimed dance choreographers of the twentieth century’ (Sorgel, S 2015 pg. 120). Pina Bausch began her training at the Folkwang School in Essen in 1955, it was there she studied with Kurt Jooss. Jooss had a strong influence on Pina Bausch as an artist and choreographer, as Royd Climenhaga states in Pina Bausch, published in 2009. The Folkwang School was one of the few places that provided expressionist modern dance practice after the war, Jooss drew on some of the primary energies that he helped foster in the keen development of expressionist dance in the 1920s. This is the first base on which Bausch’s work and the growth of Tanztheater stands. (Climenhaga, R 2009 pg. 4).

The term Tanztheater or ‘dance theatre’ dates back to Germany in the twenties, where Rudolf von Laban was a prominent figure. ‘In the early twenties, Laban distanced himself from dancing as an expression of subjective feelings’ (Climenhaga, R 2013 pg. 12) Laban devoted his life to dance and movement, experimenting with musical composition and new dance forms, he opened a school in Stuttgart, Germany, where Kurt Jooss became a pupil there, Jooss upon graduation later formed the company Ballet Jooss. ‘Between the two world wars, Laban’s influence spread throughout Germany and beyond. For him it was a period of tremendous activity and achievement.’ (Newlove, J & Dalby, J. 2004 pg. 12) For Bausch her early experience of the war is reflected in her pieces, ‘sudden outbursts of panic, fear, and unnamed danger’ (Servos, N. Unknown) are present themes in many of her pieces, including The Rites of Spring and Café Muller.

Bausch continued her training at The Juilliard School of Music in New York (1958), where she was taught by Jose Limon, dancers from Martha Graham’s Company, Margaret Craske, Alfredo Corvino and Antony Tudor, whom she later found employment with at the Metropolitan Opera. ‘Although Bausch spent a short period of time studying at Juilliard in New York, the influence of American formalist modernism is limited in her most characteristic works – that is, the works following on from the mid-seventies’ (Broadhurst, S. 1999, pg. 70). However, Bausch took every opportunity to see performances, and absorbed numerous propensities, inspired by the diversity of cultural life in New York she stayed for another year. In the introduction to the book Reinventing Dance in the 1960s the critic and historian Sally Banes describes the 1960s culture as a period of history when there were no boundaries. ‘The arts both reflected and participated in pushing the envelope beyond recognition’, the line between art and life was becoming less clear, as rules were being broken and limits tested in many sectors of society whether artistically, socially or politically. (Banes, S. 2003 pg. xiii)

ii. Pina Bausch and her collaboration with Kurt Jooss

‘Kurt Jooss was a German dancer, teacher and choreographer whose dance dramas combined expressionist modern dance movements with fundamental ballet technique’ (The New Encyclopaedia Britannica. 1974 pg. 606). Born in Aalen, Germany in 1901 a time that ushered in the Age of Modernism, Jooss trained with Rudolf von Laban[1] and became ‘one of the seminal figures in European modern dance’ (Climenhaga, R 2009 pg. 4). Jooss was initially attracted to the field of dance by Laban ‘theoretician of movement and initiator of German expressionist dance’ (Bremser, M 1999 pg. 25), as he matured Jooss absorbed the diverse artistic tendencies, and reshaped Rudolf von Laban’s nearly mystical conceptions of movement into a disciplined and realistic aesthetic of dance theatre.

Kurt Jooss trained further developing his own techniques and methodologies which he passed onto his students at The Folkwang School in Essen. At fourteen Pina Bausch began training under Jooss, ‘one can speak of the impact dance theatre (expressionist dance), as being on an essential formal plane. Above all, Pina Bausch transfers the structural principles of Jooss’ choreography into the scenic sequence of her images’ (Walther, S 1997 pg. 39). Kurt Jooss took many of the existing vocabularies, trends, techniques and methodologies he deemed appropriate for his own purpose from the roots of modern dance/physical culture; the theories and concepts of Emile Jaques Dalcroze, Rudolf Von Laban and Isadora Duncan, where their common starting point lay in an attempt to free the body from any social and spiritual constraints. Jooss invented the rest. ‘The result was a distinct form of theatrical dance. Subsequently dance in Germany took three distinct routes of development: The Opera Ballet, Ausdruckstanz, and Tanztheater. ’ (Walther, S 1994 pg. 109)

According to Suzanne Walther, writer of the international journal Choreography and Dance, the significant stages of Jooss’ career roughly correspond to major cultural and political events that influenced the lives of his generation. His renewed artistic efforts in post-war West Germany, led to the ultimate development of postmodern German Tanztheater (Walther, S 1993 pg. 6). Maintaining high standards Jooss steered away from typical ballet, to gain a new perspective on the dance stage, combining the structure and discipline of classical ballet with the fluidity and freedom of modern dance, his works were carefully created to be minimalistic, systematic, balletomodern and cinematic.

‘Bausch’s works are a combination of the sixties “happenings” and early expressionism, focused on the grotesque and the shocking. Jooss’ influence on her work is most evident in the interludes of tightly structure brilliant movement phrases, in an evident concern with contemporary social issues and in the measure of realism which she brings to the dance stage’ (Servos, N 1982 pg. 57)

The influence of Kurt Jooss is evident through Bausch’s work, mirroring the principles of Laban and Jooss most clearly in their scenic collage thinking and polyphonic composition. (Walther, S 1997 pg. 39). Her production of Café Muller created in 1978 ‘draws on Bausch’s own memories. As a child she played in her parents’ restaurant, watching but not understanding the relationships between the adult customers’ (Climenhaga, R 2013 pg. 235) which is something the piece focuses on. Her work is minimalistic with an open stage and limited props, produced from experience it creates realistic drama, something Jooss stood for. ‘He [Kurt Jooss] did not create spectacles, he created human drama. His characters were not supernatural, otherworldly or archaic creatures, but everyday people: old mothers, prostitutes, soldiers, refugees. Everyone on stage was a part of the drama’ (Walther, S 1994 pg. 109). Bausch’s 1975 choreography for Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre Du Printemps (The Rites of Spring) was to become a milestone, Norbert Servos states. The emotional force and unmediated physicality of the piece became traits of her work. From Kurt Jooss she learned ‘honesty and precision’. Bausch established both these values unleashing dramatic energy of a kind never seen before. (Servos, N 2009)

iii. Acting practitioner Bertolt Brecht, and his influence

The root of dance theatre can be traced back to the expressive dance of Rudolf von Laban and Mary Wigman, the emphasis of dance as a mode of social engagement has always been a strong element of German dance and theatre. Bertolt Brecht a German practitioner of the 1960’s and 1970’s ‘was recognised as the most influential playwright, poet, and thinker about theatre in the twentieth century.’ (Brecht, B 2015 pg. 1) Pina Bausch’s work is seen to reflect many of the attributes Brechtian theatre portrays; the audience become participants in the significance of the performance, and interpretation is banished from the stage.

The Rites of Spring has an ongoing narrative throughout which is filled with emotional complexity alike many of her pieces, especially unresolved are the images of gender roles, and sexual relations. Narratives are put in place and quickly discarded, and the choreography is broken down into incessantly repetitive abstractions, Bausch conveyed a new language of dance theatre, a methodology that transcends Brechtian concepts of performance.

‘Bausch combines a visually rich production style with techniques drawn from both Brechts ‘epic theatre’ and [Antonin] Artaud’s concept of a ‘theatre of cruelty’. Her performers apply ‘method’ principles, imbuing their interactions with the intensity and pain of remembered experience, at the same time employing ‘defamiliarization’ techniques, undermining the spectator’s empathetic identification by presenting their role playing as self-consciously theatrical, to the point of parody. The result is a heterogeneous performance that simultaneously distances and engages the spectator.’ (Broadhurst, S 1999 pg. 71)

Applying Bertolt Brecht and Antonin Artauds theories for theatre, Bausch created effective and thought provoking theatre for a varied audience. Brecht loathed a theatre of realism and this is transferred into Pina Bausch’s pieces, in particular Nelken (1982) and Kontakthof (1978). In Kontakthof the performers walk individually to the front of the stage and just stand, addressing the audience to think and feel and subverting the fourth wall[2]. ‘Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater breaks everyday behaviour into its most elemental fragments, and fundamental aspects of stage etiquette are constantly challenged, not least the barrier between performer and spectator’ (Weir, L 2014 pg. 17). Employing Brecht’s primary proposal of ‘epic theatre’ suggests that a piece of theatre should not cause the spectator to emotionally involve themselves with the characters or action, but should instead provoke self-reflection and a critical review of what has been put on the stage, Ulrike Garde stated that Pina Bausch has successfully combined the challenges of Brechtian theatre both the political and the artistic (Garde, U 2006 pg. 218).

‘Bausch shares with Brecht an enthusiasm for making elements of the theatre stand out independently from the “narrative” of the performance. Servos pointed out that for Bausch “the various theatrical elements do not combine in harmonious whole, but instead retain their independence” (Price, D 1990 pg. 325)

In Bausch’s work the theatricality is played out upon the body, or more specifically by the dancers/performers, Bausch’s company members play the role of actors and dancers, challenging the internalized social norms of gendered behaviour indicating the cross-over genres of dance and theatre. In the above comments both Price and Servos propose Bausch as a director due to the use of theatrical elements, in comparison to a choreographer. Bausch’s repertoire of everyday movements used in her later pieces from 1978 onwards uses Brechtian gestus [3] in addressing gender issues from a feminist point of view which can not necessarily be portrayed through classical or traditional dance. However Ana Sanchez-Colberg states that Bausch’s work has no clear distinctions of a beginning, middle and end. The action occurs in a non-sequential parade of scenes of no chronological order. It makes zero attempt to develop a monologic narrative containing elements such as subject development, character, climax, exposition, development and denouement, (Sanchez-Colberg, A 2002 pg. 158) which was seen as a traditional plot for traditional theatre. Yet in Bausch’s dance theatre the traditional plot has been replaced by what Norbert Servos calls “the principle of montage” where the arrangement of images, transcends into a structuring method abandoning a coherent and logical plot. The concept of Antonin Artauds mise en scene and Brechts gestus method are two dominant elements in Bausch’s dance theatre. ‘Important attitudes of Brechtian theatre-building…are developed in performance art and the dance theatre of Pina Bausch’ (Thompson, P 2006 pg. 275).


i. Introduction: The Rites of Spring 1913

‘The ballet that declared the advent of modernism in dance, was appropriately violent’ (Tobias, T 1987 pg. 100). Vaslav Nijinsky originally created The Rites of Spring in 1913 with a composition written by Igor Stravinsky . As Tobi Tobias states Nijinsky’s choreography was evident of a movement in dance culture, however, it was not accepted well by the Parisian public, and provoked a riot. Stravinsky and Nijinsky’s ballet portrayed a pagan celebratory ritual in which a virgin sacrifices herself to the God of Spring, originally titled The Victim the chosen one dances herself to death.

Vaslav Nijinsky was an artist, he was both a dancer and choreographer. Nijinsky danced with the Ballet Russes from 1909 ‘which was to be the most glamorous and influential theatrical experience in Europe. Nijinsky’s dancing was a great part of its fame; and it was the Ballet Russes that made Nijinsky famous.’ (Acocella, J 1999) Nijinsky trained at the Imperial Theatrical School in St Petersburg, the same school to produce George Balanchine[4], whom later influenced Pina Bausch with his reinvention of classical ballet in New York, at the same time she was training at the Juilliard School of Music. Nijinsky ‘became an international star and a great artist…to his audiences, Nijinsky was something utterly foreseen, a miracle’ (Acocella, J 1999) when performing work by choreographer Michel Folkwine such as Les Sylphides, Scheherazade, Le Spectre de la Rose, Petrouchka and others with the Diaghilev company.

Between 1912 and 1913 he produced three ballets – The Afternoon of a Faun, Jeux, and The Rites of Spring. Regarding The Rites of Spring ‘Nijinsky marked a radical departure from classical ballet, with the dancers’ toes turned in and their limbs thrust at sharp angles instead of smooth, rounded curves’ (A&E Networks 2009) that was known as ballet at the time. He tackled the controversial themes of death, gender and male dominance throughout his analytic approach, the emotions discomforting and the look ugly. Le Sacre du Printemps (or The Rites of Spring) premiered in 1913 ‘anticipated in the early years of this century what has lately been regarded as novel and unique. It bears closer resemblance to certain postmodern dances of the last decade that to anything that has happened choreographically since the year of its premiere’ (Hodson, M 1985 pg. 35).

On May 29 1913 the brand new ballet from the Ballet Russe Le Sacre du Printemps caused an outrageous riot on its opening night in Paris, however it is questioned whether the controversy was due to the music or choreography. As classic music critic Ivan Hewett comments, classical dance aspired upwards, defying gravity, the movement was light and free flowing although structured in technical accuracy, on the other hand Nijinsky’s dancers seemed pulled down to the earth. Their strange, jerky movements and awkward poses challenged every principle of refinement and poise (Hewett, I 2013). As Hewett states the Parisian public were accommodating towards traditional dance, in comparison to the unusual choreography of Vaslav Nijinsky, in addition to this you could question whether the choreography would be accepted by today’s audience and society in comparison to a community in the early twentieth century. In Sally Banes’ book Dancing Women: Female Bodies on Stage she argues that Nijinsky’s awkward, convulsive choreography and the mass of primitive bodies was a reflection of the modern notion; that premodern society is marked by a lack of differentiation: law, agriculture, ethics and religion are all one. But at the same time commented upon the modern condition such as the loss of individuality and community in the mechanical age, (Banes, S 1998 pg.100-101) therefore The Rites of Spring challenges modern society, something that was not explored in theatre till the 1920’s by Kurt Jooss and the introduction of expressionist dance. Pina Bausch’s reinvention of the original production over 60 years later caused a different public approach and review, showing a development of dance and European theatre alongside a progress in audience perspective.

ii. The Rite of Spring 1975

The Rite of Spring explores the territory of a woman’s struggle to define herself against the stereotyping of male dominance and exploring “gender construction”. Gender theory challenges the traditional notion that familiar attributes are natural. In conventional terms, a person’s sex is thought to be naturally biologically determined and the characteristics constructed associated with the male or female sex are inherent. ‘Gender is defined at the mutually exclusive scripts for being male and female. A gender construction is the traditional notion that women are to work inside the home and men to work outside the home’ (Anderson, C 2004 pg. 7).

Pina Bausch’s reinvention begins seeing a terrified woman on a stage floor covered with a thick layer of peat, from here the sacrifice could be seen in three distinct parts. The first starts with a division of men and women dancing in different movement patterns, which reflects the stereotypical male and female roles in society. The men being a lot stronger in choreography, the use of more angular movements and travelling quickly, whereas the women use more inverted and downward actions. In Judith Hannas Dance, Sex and Gender she comments upon the stereotypical dance and movement; the men usually move stronger in a more aggressive manner while the women were more frail and submissive. (Hanna, J 1988 pg. 140-144) Creating stereotypes on stage through movement and physicality allows the audience to recognise the difference in characteristic status and relations between the performers on stage.

The second part is the most danced part throughout Bausch’s version with ‘continuous chorography’ (Servos, N 1984), the men offer each woman a red dress in decision of who will be their victim of sacrifice. ‘Bausch’s work continually delivers messages about the societal conventions and human behaviour especially in regard to gender roles’ (O’Reilley, M 2009). Pina Bausch devised theatre for her audience to think and question social society, this section the women are looked down on by the men, the women are objects to be sacrificed by the male dominators, and the vigorous and repetitive choreography reflects the panic of the women on stage, their breathlessness and exhaustion replicating the submissive struggle.

‘Male dominance in the gender hierarchy is a natural function of masculine superiority and feminine inferiority…Machismo stresses norms valuing toughness, aggressiveness, risk taking, and virility, norms reflecting the dominating, coercive, or deconstructive power over self, other men, nature, and women. As a descendent of the ideology of the warrior, it emphasizes dominance, threat, and violence through hyper masculine physical action.’ (Bullough, V & Bullough, B 1994 pg. 602)

As Vern and Bonnie Bullough discuss, that masculine physical action is reflective of male stereotypical characteristics such as strength, power, aggressiveness, and control over both other men and women. In comparison to Pina Bausch’s choreography for the women the use of stillness imitates the men’s higher status and the authority they have, over-seeing the panic and terror they have created within the women.

The third moment in The Rite of Spring is the sacrifice, where the chosen woman dances herself to death. ‘Fear, anguish and despair are seen in this woman who finishes on the floor. These emotions could be seen as female fears about sex in a patriarchal society.’ (Bellusci, M pg. 4 2011) The direction and production value of the piece has created “iconic images” the men and women are partially dressed, covering themselves in churned peat throughout the performance marking their clothes and bodies as they drive themselves through a frantic ritual. With the men being partially dressed this can be seen as being under control and exudes confidence, however regarding the partially naked women this can make them seem extremely vulnerable and exposed from an audiences perspective.

‘The chosen one…stood out from the beginning as if she knew it was her destiny to be selected from among the females. She seemed overpowered by the red dress that the victim must wear as she tossed it to the others. It was as if it were burning through her. As a powerful foil to the huge emotional involvement by the chosen one, the male who made the choice played the role almost without emotion. Lying on the floor motionless with his arms stretched forward as if waiting to receive her’ (Potter, M 2009)

The red dress signifies the chosen one; looking closer the colour red can be a symbolism of death, blood, danger and anger all themes, emotions or representations shown throughout The Rite of Spring. Marina Bellusci analyses the red dress to be a symbolism of blood which could be understood as the victims’ loss of virginity; the man has an active position in sex and the woman, in a patriarchal society, where death is considered a symbol of the release after sexual intercourse, as in the French expression “petit mort”. In other words, a scared virgin bleeds in her first intercourse and fights against herself. This creates the common theme of rape and sexuality in Bausch's 1975 version, something extremely controversial for its time. ‘ The Rite of Spring was the last of her works to feature a coherent narrative’. (Climenhaga, R 2013 pg. 234)

‘Pina Bausch’s dance theatre, intentionally stages clichés of femininity and masculinity in order to explore how they are social constructed or performatively produced’ (Allain, P & Harvie, J 2006 pg. 154). When Bausch created The Rite of Spring in 1975, she was already known for her controversial pieces, when she took over the ballet company in Wuppertal, Germany 1973 her work provoked furious reactions. ‘Audiences walked out, banging doors as they left. Sometimes they threw things. Bausch kept going’ (Climenhaga, R 2013 pg. 233). Bausch’s dancers show full commitment to character, and in The Rite of Spring are ready to dance to complete exhaustion, her dancers most importantly are part of an extremely personal rehearsal process which differed her from other choreographers of that time. ‘Never had the war of the sexes been so graphically depicted’ (Jennings, L 2010)

iii. Pina Bausch’s Methodologies

‘Pina Bausch has prioritised why we move rather than how’ we move, (Allain, P & Harvie, J 2006 pg. 172) alike Rudolf Von Laban who used movement in performance for aesthetic purpose. Bausch’s approach to her company Tanztheater Wuppertal was extremely personal, she went on a journey when creating pieces and spent a lot of time with the dancers; she focuses on the narrative and expression of this through how her dancers move.

In rehearsal for The Rite of Spring Pina Bausch choreographed but mostly experimented with her dancers, abled them to move how they wanted how they felt. In an interview with Bausch she urged them on every step:

‘"It's like so, like hitting yourself," she said about a spasmodic gesture that was repeated several times.

"The head is always down, but looking up. It's like you cover yourself, you protect yourself, like fighting."

The dancers bobbed and ducked, collapsing inwardly and shielding themselves from imagined blows.

"They are just tired, the legs, so you walk with your chest [thrust forward]," Bausch said toward the end of the hour. "You are coming soon to the end. You have no energy. You just collapse."

And collapse they did, to wild applause and whoops from the audience, while Bausch crouched nearby and clapped toward her dancers with outstretched hands.’ (Manuel, D 1999)

As Bausch discusses above, she is extremely invested in her creative work, she uses a lot of imagery for the dancers in order to create depth to a narrative. The work done in the rehearsal room is as important if not more so than on stage, it is where the character is brought to life and time to experiment and move freely. ‘Bausch is very aware of the plight of women in contemporary society, and the imagery she chooses to reflect that concern’ Throughout The Rite of Spring all production elements come together, costume, Stravinsky’s composition, the on stage peat and Bausch’s choreography, in order to provoke thought within society regarding women and a patriarchal society.

Pina Bausch’s methodologies are about creating truthful work, she provided a safe environment in which her actors could explore physical actions. The importance of tenderness and respect in rehearsal, for creating an environment where people can open up, she was as much involved in the delicate personal construction and the dancers came to respect that. (Climenhaga, R 2008 pg. 43) In the early 1970s she forced her dancers to more extreme lengths of self-revelation. In the mid-1970s, she created Come Dance With Me, which was an exploration of sexual violence and gender stereotypes. ‘Preparation for the piece left many of the dancers feeling distraught “In one rehearsal, all the men in the company had to do six ways of groping you and kissing you and it was just like being raped… I finally broke down crying.” said by Meryl Tankard’ (Jennings, L 2010). The process was evidentially gruelling for the dancers however, it is what aided her in pushing boundaries in dance theatre her performers were actors as well as dancers and this affected her hiring process.

‘I pick my dancers as people. I don’t pick them for nice bodies for having the same height, or things like that. I look for the person…the personality’ (Bausch, P 1985 pg. 43). Her dancers were different and were aware of their own emotions and feelings, Bausch believed that relying on the performer’s individually gives the process of creating a piece more depth and universality, but it also means coping with vagaries of people’s reactions and behaviours. Every day was a discovery. (Bausch, P 1999 pg. 43) Her dancers were all technically sound, however as Bausch converses above what mattered was how they felt, what they felt, the ability to have freedom and challenge themselves as a people.

‘You know, I love her and I hate her. She is remarkable, but she can drive you so hard. Sometimes she doesn’t seem to care that you are only human, that you can only do so much. At other times, she has the most concern you can imagine. I went away, finally, but I had to come back. Nowhere else can I have this experience as a dancer’ (Climenhaga, R 2009 pg. 44)

In accordance to the statement above, Pina Bausch’s methods were extremely controversial and different to other practitioners of the mid 1970s, for example ‘pioneering’ (Seed, J 1992 pg. 168) company Ballet Rambert and their choreographer Christopher Bruce approached rehearsals with different methodologies. Bruce choreographer for the contemporary ballet company was not totally direct throughout his rehearsal process, in an interview with Bruce taken from Valerie Dunlops book Dance Words he discusses that he “deliberately does not clarify a character or a relationship, allowing images which produce movement to be forgotten and the movement remains” (Bruce, C 1995 pg. 416). However, Bausch has influenced a number of practitioners, tackling controversial themes and her individualistic methodologies.


i. Pina Bausch’s Influence on the development of dance theatre

‘No one had greater influence on post-war European dance than the German choreographer Pina Bausch’ (Jennings, L 2010). Objectively Luke Jennings, journalist from The Observer states Bausch’s influence to be extremely significant; By using specific methodologies that were gruelling and contemporary, defying conventional rules regarding her dancers age and shape, and tackling controversial themes throughout her work. However, it could be argued that the work of Kurt Jooss was more influential than Bausch, as Bausch was taught by the avant-garde choreographer who ‘expanded the technical and thematic range of theatrical dance’ (Britannica Editors, 2015) himself. Jooss’ ballet The Green Table (1932) is a satire about the futility of war, which hold contemporary themes or implications, alike The Big City (1932) and The Seven Heroes (1933) two of his other works. In regards to this Jooss’ was creating ‘timeless dance that continues to speak to audience today’ (Newbrough, R 2009) in the thirties way before Bausch in the seventies. ‘ The Green Table also serves as tangible evidence for the impact made on ballet and modern dance’ (Newbrough, R 2009). As Rachel Newbrough converses, Kurt Jooss made impact on the dance genres of ballet and modern whereas Pina Bausch was most evident with her work in Tanztheater.

In 1973 Pina Bausch was appointed director of dance for Wuppertal Theatres in Germany which was soon to be named Wuppertaler Tanztheater then came Tanztheater Wuppertal. Making these name changes, Bausch’s intention was to signal the companies’ movement away from classical dance – be it ballet or modern that were predominant in Germany at the time.

‘In those early years dance and theatre was wholly unfamiliar. In her performances the players did not merely dance; they spoke, sang – and sometimes they cried or laughed too. But the strange new work succeeded in establishing itself…Dance theatre was soon to become a unique genre and Wuppertal were set for a revolution which was to redefine dace throughout the world’ (Servos, N Unknown)

Norbert Servos discusses Bausch’s work with her company a significant contribution towards dance theatre through not only Western European theatre but the world. Bausch’s use of real element materials creates one of the theatrical elements of her pieces and facilitates the expressiveness of dance, this could be said to have inspired current practitioners and artists to widen their performance spaces and create spectacles other than two dimensional theatre. For Example the layer of peat in The Rites of Spring (1975), dead leaves in Blue Beard (1977), ankle deep water in Arien (1985) and carnations in Nelken (1982), this altered movements from her dancers, as well as emotional responses from her audiences, and is something that Matthew Bourne commented upon with regards to Bausch’s work: ‘Dancing on the earth itself seems so right, and the movement is raw, effortful and full of dread, performed with passion and heart breaking intensity. Its simplicity means it will never be bettered’ (Bourne, M 2012). Matthew Bourne creates theatrical dance productions which are open to genre featuring ballet, contemporary, comedy and mime, the theatricality and blend of theatre genre of his work could be seen as an influence of Bausch herself. ‘Matthew Bourne blends dance, style, humour, spectacle, character comedy and mime to create a provocative and powerful Swan Lake for our times’ (New Adventures, 2012). Matthew Bourne alike Pina Bausch ‘likes to know his cast and we all get along well. Matthew likes to work collaboratively with us and focuses a lot on our relationships with the other performers and what creates physical response’ (Williams, L 2016) although this is not directly an influence of Bausch, Pina Bausch did push her dancers to be responsive, to be actors as her famous quote says ‘I’m not so interested in how they move, but, what moves them’ (Climenhaga R 2008 pg. 42).

‘Many practitioners have consciously explored the boundaries between genres, like German choreographer Pina Bausch with her decades of dance theatre. British group DV8 describes themselves as a physical theatre company, yet they build on the 1980’s Euro crash movement, which body to its limits. Dance has frequently contended with the question of how to speak with the body or present concrete concepts or themes through abstract movement’ (Allain, P & Harvie, J 2006 pg. 170)

DV8’s physical theatre work, as stated in the above quote, is focused on presenting concepts and themes through dance and movement, influenced heavily by Bausch’s exploration between dance specific genres. DV8 is about taking risks both aesthetically and physically, breaking down boundaries between dance and theatre, and tackling controversial subjects. ‘In productions such as Can We Afford This, Bound to Please and Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men, DV8 has tackled the battle of perfectionism, masculinity, AIDS, drugs, sexuality, abuse and other controversial topics.’ (Baker, D 2005 pg. 13) Their aim is to shock people, to break that fourth wall between the audience and performers; a Brechtian technique used within many of Pina Bausch’s pieces.


The research compiled and analysed throughout this dissertation, has summarised that Pina Bausch has developed dance theatre since the 1970s, with help from her 1975 production of The Rites of Spring. However, Kurt Jooss also had great impact in the post-war culture of avant-garde theatre and expressionism, regarding his work on such productions as The Green Table and The Seven Heroes. Bausch was influenced by a number of different European practitioners such as Rudolf von Laban, Bertolt Brecht and teacher Kurt Jooss, alongside many American influences when training at The Julliard School of Music which is shown throughout both her early and later works.

The Rites of Spring broke boundaries tackling controversial topics of gender construction, rape, and death as discussed throughout Chapter Two, which influenced the contemporary physical theatre companies and practitioners of today, such as; DV8, Matthew Bourne, Theatre de Complicite and Forced Entertainment. Bausch’s rehearsal approach and methodologies were unique and individual for her and her company Tanztheater Wuppertal, however, it is what created truth on stage. Bausch intentionally broke stereotypes for dancers picking them not only for their technical ability but their strength shown to be vulnerable, in order to portray the character work and emotion within her pieces. After Bausch’s death in 2009, Tanztheater Wuppertal still remain, creating new pieces of theatre for the 2015/2016 season with choreographers Tim Etchells, Cecila Bengolea, Francois Chaignaud, and Theo Clinkard, who were invited by Pina Bausch to work with the dancers. ‘Her unique ensemble, rich with varied personalities, will continue to maintain these values in the years to come’ (Servos, N Unknown), alongside new works, her earlier productions are still successfully being toured throughout Europe and Pina Bausch practical workshops are becoming more popular proving a relevance to her work in a modern day society.

Bausch was interested in every culture context and she created many performances to connect with the people outside Germany: Palermo, Rom, Sao Paulo, Santiago, Istanbul, Hong Kong and Los Angeles, this also contributed to her international success. ‘She created something universal that captivates people all over the world. Four years after Pina died of cancer, the company from the small town of Wuppertal is still so popular worldwide that not all requests can be met.’ (Bach, A 2013)



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[1] Laban was a ‘central figure in the twentieth century dance’ (Allain, P & Harvie, J 2006 pg 48) recognised mostly for his system of movement notation on which he published in Germany in 1926. Labanotation is a process of annotating movements in space and time that has the capacity to define force or energy as well as the directional weight of movement.

[2] The Fourth Wall: The barrier that separates the audience from the performer a common device used in Brechtian ‘epic-theatre’.

[3] Gestus: A Brechtian technique as a means of making manifest on stage the behaviour and attitudes of human beings toward one another... Gestus was one of several strategies for ‘escapisation’ of interpretation, presentation and reception of his dramatic works. (Thompson, P 2006 pg.250)

[4] In 1976 Bausch reinvented one of Balanchine’s classical ballets The Seven Deadly Sins a satirical ballet chante (sung through ballet) . George Balanchine directed, produced and choreographed the piece, with composition by Kurt Weill to a German libretto by Bertolt Brecht. Bausch’s Seven Deadly Sins follows the surreal nightmares of murder and rape alike in her 1975 reinvention of The Rites of Spring.

22 of 22 pages


Pina Bausch's reinvention of "The Rites of Spring" in 1975 and its impact on dance
Buckinghamshire New University
BA (Hons) Musical Theatre
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contemporary, dance, art, pina bausch, physical theatre, dance theatre, tanztheater
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Amber Maddison (Author), 2016, Pina Bausch's reinvention of "The Rites of Spring" in 1975 and its impact on dance, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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