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By Rita Felciano
When Pina Bausch died on June 30, 2009, it was a shock to the whole dance world. Learning of her demise when on tour in Wroclaw, Poland, the dancers of Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch unanimously decided to perform that night. “We all knew that’s what Pina would have wanted,” said Janet Panetta, Tanztheater Wuppertal’s ballet master. “When we started the evening, we were pretty sure nobody knew because we could hear people laugh and talk. Then, probably during the intermission, they found out. At the end, the company took one bow, and the audience stayed and applauded for half an hour. It has been that way everywhere we went.” Panetta remembered “how lost, really lost” everyone had felt at first. But a few months later, the dancers were doing well, in part she thinks, because the transition has been so smooth.
Dominique Mercy, who has been with the company since its beginning in 1973, had been one of Bausch’s closest confidantes. With the dancers’ assent, Mercy and Robert Sturm, artistic assistant and rehearsal director since 2000, assumed artistic leadership on an interim basis. In October 2009, they officially became co-artistic directors with a contract through 2013. In August 2009, Bausch’s son, Salomon Bausch, created a foundation that is in charge of the choreographer’s work. An archive is in the planning stages.
Tanztheater owes much of its current health to the extraordinary commitment of the 31 dancers. Because the choreography is highly individualized, they may have a heightened personal investment in the roles they’ve helped to create. According to Panetta, the dancers have continued to dedicate their lives to Bausch’s work even after her death.
New Orleans–born Julie Anne Stanzak was with the Dutch National Ballet when she saw Bausch’s troupe perform more than 25 years ago. “The work struck me right in my heart. I knew that this was what I was looking for,” she said on the phone from Wuppertal. Without a moment’s doubt, she changed “pointe shoes for the dirt of Sacre.”
“With Pina,” she observed, “there was a flow that you wanted to be in because she had a vision, a poetry about her. Year after year one found oneself in a process where one was growing and could see the value of the work.”
With some of the pieces commissioned in host cities like Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Lisbon, Istanbul, it meant developing material from impressions gathered in those cities. With pieces created in Wuppertal, such as the 2006 Vollmond (Full Moon), to be performed at BAM Sept. 29–Oct. 9, the process was more intimate, perhaps, Stanzak mused, also more focused. “Vollmond is fantastic, with the water, which brings a new element to the space, and it can fly in the air. You think it's like diamonds or stars. When you see the big rock you think, did they bring it all the way from Australia?"
While she has no favorites, Vollmond occupies a special place in Stanzak’s life. “Believe me,” she laughed. “Pina knew how to use us in every stage that we went through.” Vollmond raises questions about love, and Stanzak was about to be married.
Bausch had already planned most of the touring up until 2012. In the next year the company will be performing in France, Brazil, England, Italy, Spain, and Taiwan. And the company is committed to 30 performances a year in its hometown, Wuppertal.
The repertory appears to be in good hands. Because of their love for her, the dancers were very dependent on Pina’s opinion,” Panetta said. “They do listen to Dominique, but they are also a little more independent.”
In 2008 when she received the Dance Magazine Award, Bausch concluded her acceptance speech by saying, “I feel welcomed every time I come to New York.” This time, it is her spirit, her legacy, her dancers that will be welcomed. —Rita Felciano