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This year sees the tenth anniversary of the death of Pina Bausch. Wim Wenders dedicated a 3D documentary to her: Pina, begun as a collaboration with the choreographer, was released in 2011, when she had already passed away. On seeing one of her shows for the first time, the director asked himself: “How is it possible that something so beautiful exists and I knew nothing about it?”. Pina Bausch died on 30 June 2009 in Wuppertal, five days after being diagnosed with cancer. In order to understand her it is necessary to go right back to her training. 

Kurt Jooss, Pina Bausch’s first teacher, was the founder of the Folkwang Hochschule, the University of the Arts in Essen in the Rhineland, advocate of a type of dance in which classical ballet’s technical nature blended with the modern. In the rooms of that school lies the root of the amalgamations to which Pina was to give life: all the arts, from music to design, were taught there. Emilie Fouilloux, former ballerina with the Paris Opéra, the Miami City Ballet and the Scala in Milan, now DJ, says: “I watched some rehearsals. Her entrance in the room was an epiphany, the tension would rise in anticipation. First you would see her assistants, they would put the dance together, then Pina would arrive to check that everything was all right and to perfect the details. She would sit at an enormous table, taking lots of notes. We know her more as a choreographer than as a dancer, she created pieces that were way ahead of their time”. Pina – born Philippine Bausch in Solingen in 1940 – began studying with Jooss at the age of fourteen. A dancer with the Soringen children’s ballet, she grew up at the family restaurant observing the people coming and going from the adjoining hotel – back and forth with their moods, their movements, their plans: “Mich interessiert nicht, wie die Menschen sich bewegen, sondern, was sie bewegt (I’m not interested in how people move, but what moves them)”, she would say. “She spoke very little”, says Emilie, “and if she wanted to say something to a dancer she would tell her assistants, who would then pass it on to the person concerned. Attention concentrated on her. There was silence, not the usual chaos of rehearsal. The atmosphere was sectarian, almost religious. She was incredibly thin, with long arms, magic when she moved”.

Following her first apprenticeship in Essen, Pina attends the Juillard School of Music with a scholarship from the DAAD (Deutschen Akademischen Austauschdienst – German Academic Exchange Service). These are the Balanchine years; New York is a hotbed of innovation for dance. In America, Pina studies under Antony Tudor, José Limón, Alfredo Corvino, Margret Craske: she has the chance to learn the development of ballet. She decides to stay another year, funded by the New York Metropolitan. Called back to Essen by Kurt Jooss, she begins working for the Folkwang Tanzstudio, initially as assistant choreographer, and then with her own original choreographies such as Im Wind der Zeit, for which she gains her first award. Theatre director Arno Wüstenhöfe takes her on: she makes a name for herself as a choreographer who can mix in gesture and acting. She introduces unprecedented elements – words, screams – letting the inner self of the dancer emerge. A new definition is needed to describe her idea; this is not ballet, nor is it modern dance. This is ‘Tanztheater‘ (dance theatre), a word coined in the twenties by Hungarian dancer and dance theorist Rudolf von Laban, whose name is thus revived through Pina Bausch. In 1973, Pina renames the Wuppertal ballet: it will now be known as the ‘Tanztheater Wuppertal‘. It is the start of an ascent – Café Müller, Orpheus and Eurydice, Ich bring dich um die Ecke, Le Sacre du printemps – that will only be halted by her untimely death: “When she did The Rite of Spring, the pièce that she proposed was ahead of its time for its sets alone. She transformed the stage into a natural setting, there was soil on the stage. The dancers were dancing on soil”

Improvisation is at the heart of Bausch’s style: choreographies in which she puts direct questions to the dancers, who answer with movements and words, improvising. This is the case when the director of the Bochum theatre, Peter Zadek, asks her to reinterpret Shakespeare’s Macbeth in 1978. Dance becomes a place of dialogue and inclusion, a meeting ground. “She chose dancers that looked like normal people, people off the street. She had chosen the members of her company, there were about twenty. If you were chosen by Pina you felt you had a gift. I saw the girls that were working with her, they had changed, they seemed carried away by her energy. Pina took you into her world, she could get inside people, you almost fell in love with her. Some dancers let their underarm hair grow because Pina was against all artifice. ‘Don’t cut your hair’, ‘don’t sunbathe’, the assistants would tell the dancers, knowing what she liked. She was looking for diversity, but natural, not fabricated – but while Pina did not hide the flaws of the body, in dance she sought perfection”. The initial bewilderment caused by Bausch’s experimentation was cast away by its expressive force: soon a new chapter in choreography was being written with every performance.

The Tanztheater Wuppertal launched international collaborations – Pina encountered and mingled cultures. She involved the public in a process of pacification, embodying a new humanism: from Europe – in Italy with Viktor, Palermo Palermo and O Dido – to India and Chile, via Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Seoul. Life companion Rolf Borzik died in 1980: the creative force behind the costumes and sets, his work was continued by Marion Cito and Peter Pabst. “Clothes were almost absent, the men bare-chested and the women in sheer dresses, offering glimpses of the body – whereas in traditional ballet, costumes and makeup are used to conceal who you are, to bring uniformity, to create a homogeneous group. It wasn’t like that for Pina. Her approach to dance has not influenced classical ballet, which has remained the same: in the morning you put your hair up, you must be flawless. Around the age of eleven or twelve we started to use a little mascara to open up the eyes, then a bit of blush. We took makeup lessons to learn how to get ourselves ready. We used to wake up at 6.45, and go to the cafeteria for breakfast. At 7.30 we were already in the changing rooms with a chignon. We rehearsed from 1pm to 7pm, there were two ballet classes, from 4 o’clock on and there were extra classes at weekends.

A discipline that still counts today. “In this kind of profession you have to commit yourself a hundred percent”, says Emilie. “I wasn’t interested in going to clubs, kissing boys. I wanted to dance. I left the theatre because I felt restricted – I wanted to see what was happening out there. You can’t only do one thing in life. The discipline is still relevant. There is respect when you present yourself with the background of sacrifice and discipline that dance requires”. In comments made for the awarding of the Kyoto Prize in 2007, Bausch observed that “discipline plays an enormous role” in creativity, describing artistic inspiration as “a light that switches on” suddenly: “it isn’t just getting an idea across”, she explains, “you must have faith and not be impatient”. This was her advice for the young: “Listen to yourself, not what others think or what others want us to do”.

Emilie Fouilloux, former dancer with the Paris Opéra, the Miami City Ballet and later at the Scala in Milan, today DJ and founder of Mademparis.com, creative agency and manufacturer specialising in cultural and branded content linked to the dance world.