By Rachel Straus
In a white room the size of an airplane hangar, two men sit on a high table with their legs dangling several feet from the floor. One of the men tips his body and careens over the edge. Just before smacking his head against the ground, his friend, without glancing, snatches him by the ankle and pulls him up. Then the sequence begins again: a correction of the Humpty Dumpty tale.
So begins choreographer Pina Bausch's "For the Children of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, "which premiered yesterday at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House. In this three-hour theatrical event, which marks the 25th anniversary of Ms. Bausch's first appearance there, good fortune reigns. Such an outlook would be unremarkable, but tragedy predominates in this German born artist's 30-year body of work.
In "Children," Ms. Bausch forges new territory. Happiness arrives in visual bundles: A dancer flies across the stage, his stomach on a skateboard, while another on three sets of wheels rides be hind in hot pursuit. Company veteran Dominique Mercy appears bare-chested, his pelvis circled in a riot of white tulle, and he carries a watering can, creating the effect of a Martha Stewart fairy godmother. Female dancers catapult from a jump rope that doubles as a slingshot into the waiting arms of their male partners. Life can be marvelous, the work seems to say.
Unlike other Bausch works, in which men treat women schizophrenically - admiring and wooing them one minute, poking and prodding them like cattle the next - in "Children," women maintain goddess-like status. They strut in evening gowns with pumps, and patter about barefoot in diaphanous dresses. And the men folk cater to their every whim. In one instance, a male dancer serves as a human fountain, pouring water from his mouth into the cupped hand of a woman lounging in his arms.
Fragile-looking Mr. Mercy, in black tie, slowly approaches strapping Nazareth Panadero. He asks her if she loves him. She pauses, sniffs the air as though smelling day-old fish, and says, "not really." Then she reconsiders and asks him how long she must love him. He replies, "five minutes." The audience laughs. They politely negotiate further about love's duration and settle on one-and-a-half minutes. But the deal is sealed by a hug that lasts much longer.
Ms. Bausch's scenes come together when each of the 15 company members perform a solo. Showing off the dancers' limitless energy, these solos underscore children's physical fearlessness and emotional transparency. Unfortunately, after the sixth or seventh, the affect is redundant.
The evening's spotlight shines down on dancer Ditta Miranda Jasfi, who, no more than 5 feet tall, enters in a nightgown and looks up at a male dancer like a questioning child. Several men lift her like an icon, and one cradles her in his arms like a Pieta. Toward the end of "Children," a dancer reads aloud the American-Indian myth "How the Bat Came To Be." Then, like an origami puzzle folding neatly together, Ms. Jasfi's previous scenes of near dying and resurrection - where, above the shoulders of her partner, she joyfully fluttered aloft, like a baby bat - crystallize.
It's this kind of "ah ha" moment that keeps Ms. Bausch's fans returning; the whimsy of "Children" will win her new fans.
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