It’s been a few days now, but I still can’t stop thinking about Pina Bausch’s Kontakthof, performed by Tanztheater Wuppertal for Toronto’s Luminato Festival. I’d seen snippets of it in Wim Wenders’ gorgeous biopic, Pina, but never before in its entirety. At a whopping three hours, Bausch’s classic 1978 piece remains stunningly powerful and relevant.
From the beginning, the audience is riveted. A woman in a pink satin dress walks to the front of the stage, turns around, pulls her hair back, bares her teeth (eliciting a few giggles), hunches then straightens her back, checks her palms and heels. Other women repeat these gestures in unison, then the men in sharp suits follow suit. We in the audience become mirrors, witnesses to their ceremonious preening and posing before the search for an acceptable partner.
Set in a dance hall, with tango and boogie tunes in the background, Kontakthof pits men and women (of different ages, ethnicities and body types) against each other, poking fun at the games we play to find intimacy. The poignant and the painful share space with the absurd. When the men freeze like statues, the women run in to fill the spaces: her face between his outstretched hands, her arms around his curved torso. A couple discusses whether to have sushi or Italian on their first date as they, with everyone else, take sliding steps forward before running back to step forward again. A man chases a screaming woman with a toy mouse in his hand. A woman asks an audience member for change to ride a coin-operated horse. A blow-up doll in a pink dress is thrown up to the ceiling. Everyone sits down to watch a short documentary about ducks.