New artistic director is communing with the artistic spirit of Pina Bausch

A scene from The Rite of Spring, choreographed by Pina Bausch. Photo: Dee Conway Lebrecht.

Adolphe Binder has a daunting task. She has assumed the role of artistic director of a world famous dance company created by the legendary choreographer Pina Bausch.

But she said, in an interview from New York where the company has just concluded nine sold out performances, she doesn’t feel like she is carrying the burden of Bausch’s legacy.

“The more I dig into this, the more I fall in love.”

That kind of connection helps her lead the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch which will perform two of the German choreographer’s most important works Café Müller and The Rite of Spring this week at the National Arts Centre.

“They are signature works of Pina Bausch no question,” she said. “If you think about when they were created in 1975 and 1978 and look at them today you realize the resonance that they have.”

The works aren’t dated in any way, Binder says. “They connect to something so deeply human, something so desperate and on the other hand so full of hope. That is really something, that despite all the changes in our world, they can still connect to these primal things.”

Binder believes that Bausch, who died in 2009, was one of the exceptional artists of the 20th century in that she managed to find a language that connects with the present and the future. Tanztheater means Dance Theatre and that interdisciplinary connection fits Bausch’s shows.

“That’s an extraordinary thing, I don’t know many works that can do that.”

Bausch never reflected on specific works, Binder says, so what she thought about them is not available.

However, Binder does have a take on the two pieces being presented.

Café Müller features lonely isolated people who keep trying to find love.

“There is desperation but it also holds hope at the same time. This is for me what connects the two pieces. … We can’t exist without hope.”

The Rite of Spring also features something that is elemental to art, she says. That is the act of creation.

It even underlines for her the fact that creation is vital for “our existence as a company. Our ultimate mission is to stay connected to that motor that is in us to create.”

The conversation quickly turns to dirt.

It is literally a feature of The Rite of Spring as realized by Bausch. There are truckloads of loamy dirt dumped on the stage to be used in every performance. Binder says that in the case of the shows in New York, the dirt was specially trucked in from Canada.

“We could not import it from Germany. It was not allowed in the U.S. It’s a very specific soil. It has to be dense enough because we wet it after every performance.” So it came from Canada.

Binder was born in Transylvania, Romania in 1969 and emigrated to West Germany in 1978. She has been a professional artist for about two decades. Before coming to the Tanztheater Wuppertal, she was artistic director of the Göteberg Ballet company. She’s also worked at the Berlin Ballet and was the head of dramaturgy for the dance company of Deutsche Oper in Berlin. But she was always aware of Bausch and her troupe.

“I started with theatre. I’m not educated in dance I come from literature, drama and the spoken word.

“For me it was a pure epiphany to see this work. It was the point where I felt there were wider possiblities for expression beyond mere words. This fascinated me so much that I changed to dance.

“I still strongly believe in the power of words. They can mould reality. But through watching these works I realized you also can do this without words.”

Going forward Binder says the company will continue to do Baush’s work. There are 46 individual choreographies available for presentation.

“It will remain the nucleus of our work, but there is no intention to turn company into a rep company only.

“I believe in creation. The company has been creating since the first moment of its existence.

Bausch created new pieces every year until she passed away. This stopped with her death and now it is important to bring back this creative power. We will also work on the treasure box of her 46 pieces.”

Binder syas she will be careful about bringing in new choreographers but she believes it is important to use this opportunity and the creative potential of company to form something different.

“I like to quote (Gustav) Mahler (who may have been quoting Thomas More) about the meaning of tradition. He said, ‘Tradition is not to preserve the ashes but to pass on the flame.’

“Pina Bausch for me is so much more than her work. She is an approach to the art … to finding the language for the human condition.”

Finding a new road for a company with such a legacy won’t be easy.

“You need very good reasons to add something to works of Pina Bausch that’s what I am telling myself. I have to move carefully, with sensitivity and intelligence to find the right people at the right time.”

One thing she is adamant about: “We don’t touch her choreography.”

And she’s not worried about being bored by requests to see Bausch’s older works. “There are so many of them. It’s a very rich body of work. And it demands so much of everybody to keep it at the level it needs.”

She does admit to feeling a very strong obligation to respect Bausch’s legacy. But she knows she will be helped by the dancers of the company, many of whom worked with Bausch.

The company has three generations of dancers ranging in age from 22 to 67. Binder says she met Bausch on several occasions but she adds that she wouldn’t dare to say she knew her. But she can talk to dancers who did know her. They have their memories and they share them. For Binder this is a huge inspiration.

The company is on the road on Monday headed for Ottawa where they will perform with the NAC Orchestra, something that is rarely done.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch
Where: Southam Hall
When: Sept. 28, 29 and 30 at 8 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.