Los Angeles

Pina Bausch Tanztheatre Wuppertal

Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

German choreographer Pina Bausch’s elegant, often absurd images vacillate between the intimate and the spectacular. Crouched in a niche gouged out of a huge fake tree, a man takes a leisurely cigarette break. A woman empties some sort of powder from her panties. Men scale walls like flies to sultry music. Assembled dancers of both sexes do backbends amid a shower of falling leaves. Nur Du (Only you, 1996), Bausch’s site-specific dance-theater work created during a short LA residency, was intended in part to reflect her take on the city. The varied score featured tangos, fados, jazz, and doo-wop. The most compelling aspects of the piece dealt with concerns common to all of Bausch’s projects—the nature of femaleness, vanity, modesty, loss, and the flesh-and-blood envelopes we all seem to be stuck wearing—though in a much lighter tone than previous works. Bausch has a sly sense of humor, and her physical comedy can be fresh and arresting. Peter Pabst’s set—seven life-size artificial redwood trees (including one enormous stump planted onstage like a dinosaur foot)—provided an earthy, stately location for dancers clad in evening wear and lingerie to make proclamations and against which to pull off choreographic antics that brilliantly straddled the fence between the animal and the urbane.

At times the episodic Nur Du became a collagelike opera of toplessness and lifted skirts. Much attention was called to devices humans use to hide or exaggerate their sexual characteristics. One male dancer, wearing an ermine loincloth and dangling earrings, dressed a series of women’s hair, while another, in a kind of send-up of a “duet,” lifted his female partner slowly off her feet by her long tresses. A female dancer was given huge breasts made of balloons, and her head was saddled with a big silver wig. She was then guided offstage by her male companion. Another female dancer reclined on a couch of male bodies and tittered on about how she was naked under her gown. Skirts flew up, bodices slipped down, and outfits were shed throughout the performance, creating the kind of moments Bausch has always had a penchant for, moments where sex seems imminent and that brim with the confusion and trancelike logic of dreams magically freed from sex’s more pedestrian impediments, like the tangle of clothes.

While Bausch’s gestures toward sexual caricature were largely successful and exhibited her usual mystery and depth, her efforts to create a portrait of the West seemed somewhat cursory. Dancers strutting around carrying Evian bottles or scattering sand seemed to verge on stereotype, lacking the darkness and oddness that normally characterize Bausch’s resonant work. Given this, “Nur Du” might have benefited from cutting about an hour from its more than three hours’ running time, though on the whole the piece was risky, original, intelligent, and pleasurable.

Amy Gerstler