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Woman, man, dog, tree: two decades of intimate and monumental bodies in Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater: Gabrielle Cody

Woman, man, dog, tree: two decades of intimate and monumental bodies in Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater: Gabrielle Cody

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Figure 38.1 A woman rests on the backs of male dancers in Pina Bausch’s Nur Du (Only You, 1996),

her first work created in the United States.

guests, hungry for the emotional carnage we are about to witness. Now another woman in

an evening gown appears. But Helena Pikon does not fit into her dress like a hand in a kid

glove. Pikon’s anorexic body convulses, spasmodically exposing a boy’s chest as she tries to

expiate her unspeakable trauma and escape the large stage enclosure. She runs, she falls, she

moans. When a man in a tuxedo enters, he tries to keep her down. He shouts at her in

French to stop crying, and hits her. Shortly after, another woman in an evening gown enters

and urinates in a corner of the stage. Then another man in a tuxedo screams at her and rubs

her nose in the urine. Men are also subjected to greater and lesser public humiliations by the

women, and by other men.

Bausch’s Wuppertal Tanztheater, now in its second decade, is famous for its depictions

of the violence in the relationship between the sexes, the plight of the individual subjected

to annihilating institutional authority, and the anguish inherent in attempting to enter the

physical memory of childhood. Her dancers’ brutal encounters occur in vast, neohistorical

compounds and are often underscored by popular music from the 1930s and ’40s, perhaps a

mock-nostalgic reference to the deadly world of her parents’ generation, the slick decadence of German fascism. These are some of the codas that critiques of Bausch’s work tend

to enshrine. But what are the vestiges of Bausch’s tracks on the landscape of contemporary


Like Tadeusz Kantor, Marguerite Duras, and Peter Handke, Bausch is interested in the


WO M A N, M A N, D O G, T R E E

drama before language intervenes and choreographs plays which, in many ways, dramatize

the psychic scars Auschwitz and Hiroshima have engraved on the collective imagination. As

she puts it, “I try to find what I can’t say in words, although I know it, I am looking to find

what it is” (in Kisselgoff 1985: C4). Her productions are noted for their stunning, visceral,

and apocalyptic environments: a stage surface covered with dead leaves (Blue Beard, 1977); a

flooded stage (Arien, 1979); a grass floor (1980, 1980); a field of carnations bending in the

wind (Tanzabend Nelken, 1982); a concrete wall that crumbles onstage (Palermo, Palermo,

1990). The setting of Two Cigarettes in the Dark, first produced in 1985, is composed of three

gigantic glass cases inlayed into proscenium walls. One is filled with water and goldfish, the

second with exotic fauna, and the third with desert sand and cacti. In a more recent piece,

Nur Du (Only You, 1996), the stage is transformed into a transplanted forest of redwoods.

The function of this bottled naturalism is hauntingly commemorative. Nature is artificially

(and some might argue, morbidly) preserved in these lush wastelands. Animals also make

their way into Bausch’s surreal landscapes, but only to highlight the human body’s mythic

entrapment. Barking German shepherds reined-in by ominous guards patrol the false Arden

of Tanzabend Nelken, recalling images of Nazi Germany. A life-size hippopotamus is desperately wooed by a woman whose love for him is not reciprocated in Arien. A black poodle

appears and disappears in Two Cigarettes, padding gingerly onstage and off, as if to punctuate

the world’s flippant indifference to the humiliations taking place onstage.

Figure 38.2 Pina Bausch’s “Dance choir” performing in Tanzabend Nelken (March 1987), on a “field of

carnations bending in the wind.”



Bausch is leery of sociopolitical explanations for her kinetic phantasms. Her responses to

what have become well-known generalities about her work are always meticulously cautious: “I can only make something very open, I’m not pointing out a view. There are

conflicts between people, but they can be looked at from each side, from different angles”

(in Hoffman 1994: 12), or, “You can see it like this or like that. It just depends on the way

you watch. . . . You can always watch the other way” (in Hoghe 1980: 73). Ideological

motives for her hypernaturalism are equally egregious in light of Bausch’s ostensibly simple

purpose: “I think that this is beautiful: real things onstage – earth, leaves, water” (in Hoghe

1980: 68).

Pathways to a new theatre aesthetic

Bausch’s footfalls are at once banal and philosophical, reverent and irreverent routines on

the ground of Being. Her most quoted observations are “I am not so much interested in how

people move as in what moves them” (in Manning and Benson 1986: 43) and “The work . . .

is about relationships, childhood, fear of death, and how much we all want to be loved” (in

Price 1990: 325). One might be tempted at first to assume that Bausch is praising pure

feeling over the emotional detachment of formalism; certainly Bausch, among other Germans

of her generation, has re-explored the subjectivist tradition of Ausdruckstanz, the dance of

expression epitomized in the 1920s by the movement choirs of Expressionistic choreographers such as Rudolf Laban, Oskar Schlemmer, Mary Wigman, and Kurt Jooss – Bausch’s

mentor during the 1960s. As Raimund Hoghe puts it, “In the theater of Pina Bausch one can

experience many ways of looking, of becoming aware of one’s subjective way of watching

humans, relations, situations . . .; there are many ways of seeing something within oneself

as well as within others” (1980: 73). But I also suspect that Bausch wants to be taken quite

literally when she speaks of a mise-en-scène based in what “moves” people: that is, what

emotions or psychic wounds physically shape the body’s public and private trajectories,

from what parts of the body is history recalled?

Bausch says only that the stories of her plays are about human relations: “. . . I have tried

to see them and talk about them. . . . I don’t know anything more important” (in Hoghe

1980: 65). Her subjects are people on the street, in everyday life: “The way somebody walks

or the way people carry their necks tells you something about the way they live or about the

things that have happened to them” (in Hoghe 1980: 65). Similarly, idiosyncrasies are what

she searches for in her actors: “I pick my dancers as people. I don’t pick them for nice

bodies, for having the same height. . . . I look for the person . . ., the personality” (in Loney

1985: 14). In brief, Bausch seems to be primarily interested in the choir of her dance

company as an expression of the histories of individual bodies in relation to the larger

cultural history of the body. As Kay Kirchman notes, Bausch’s “genealogy” dramatizes the

multilingual body as text, the body’s discursive potential, the ways in which it is regimented,

controlled, suppressed, betrayed, abandoned, and reformed through history: “The history of

the body is . . . the history of what has been written in this form: as injuries, as hopes, as

disappointments, as any experience at all” (1994: 42). Johannes Birringer suggests that

Bausch’s dialectical theatricality is rooted in social practice: “The borderline in Bausch’s


WO M A N, M A N, D O G, T R E E

tanztheater is the concrete human body, a body that has specific qualities and a personal

history – but also a body that is written about, and written into social representations of

gender, race, and class” (1986: 86).

[. . .]

From early in her career, Bausch has exposed the power relations inherent in erotic

negotiations, classical dance training, and theatrical representation. By the mid-1970s, she

specifically inscribes the conflict between the sexes (Manning and Benson 1986), and by

the ’80s her work examines gender as a compulsory performance. Bausch’s distancing

techniques are used in large part to explore the power relations of gendered bodies in

representation. Price argues that “[h]er repeated movements signify that behavior between

men and women is learned, culturally coded and determined, and just as inadequate as it is

inept” (1990: 329). Bausch self-consciously uses mimesis as a grotesque form of mimicry

and “undermines the referent’s authority” (Diamond 1989: 62). In Kontakthof, the “signs” of

gender are estranged through countermimicry, when a woman in red inspects one of the

men’s pelvic rotations and does not find it seductive enough: “Come on, I know you can do

it, keep working on it,” she says curtly. Not only does Bausch demonstrate that conventional

ballet training is a catastrophic institution that perpetuates the coercive imitation of social

mimesis – the reproduction of the reproduction of learned and culturally sanctioned

gestures – but she also recognizes, as Judith Butler does, that those who fail to “do” the signs

of gender right are punished (Butler 1990). Bausch’s pieces invariably dramatize the notion


Gender is not a fact, the various acts of gender create the idea of gender,

and without those acts, there would be no gender at all. . . . This repetition is

at once a reenactment and reexperiencing of a set of meanings already socially

established; it is the mundane and ritualized form of their legitimization.

(Butler 1990: 277)

Bausch’s plays are fraught with figures whose site of struggle is the relationship between

their body and culturally sanctioned cloaks of legitimization. Women often tug at girdles

and suffer high heels; men are shown to be restless, uncomfortable in the deadly uniformity

of suits and ties. And when men cross-dress, they appear equally endangered. In Two Cigarettes, a man enters in an evening gown but almost immediately takes it off. He stands in the

middle of the stage in his underwear and high heels unable to move. He finally removes

the women’s shoes, dons flippers, and enters the aquarium, where he immerses himself in

water. Repeatedly, Bausch entrusts her dancers with what would appear to be the ludicrous

and annihilating exercise of performing gender “well,” that is, of expressing gender as a

correlate of biological sex. In Kontakthof Bausch mercilessly spoofs this “corporeal project”

by requiring her company to face a movie screen on the back wall and view a documentary

film on the mating rituals of ducks.

Bausch also calls conventional proxemics into question. Marianne Goldberg describes a

moment in Bausch’s 1984 piece Auf dem Gebirge hat man ein Geschrei gehört (On the Mountain

a Cry Is Heard) this way:



In a prelude, the performers run as if terrorized through the area behind the

audience . . . including us in the frame of their action. . . . Suddenly, a gang of men

in white shirts and black trousers brutally force a resisting man and woman

together into a kiss. This scene of enforced sexuality is repeated over and over to a

fanfare of strident, heroic classical music. The grotesque portrayal of phallic/

patriarchal sexuality develops into sadism that permeates the piece. Billie Holliday

sings about a pastoral scene in the American South that is disrupted by the “sudden

smell of burning flesh.” The burning flesh serves as a metaphor for the performers’

display of violence and pleasure in a theatrical marketplace. . . . Sometimes

Figure 38.3 In Auf dem Gebirge hat man ein Geschrei gehört (On the Mountain a Cry Is Heard, April 1987)

Bausch had the stage covered with dirt, such that the actors grew progressively dirty as

she “explore[d] the genesis of performative acts by examining the power relations underlying representation.”


WO M A N, M A N, D O G, T R E E

vulnerability is tinged with black humor. Two women in flouncy green dresses

perform “innocent” cartwheels that reveal their underwear and sexy little dance

phrases that make them available commodities.

(1989: 111)

In moments such as these, Bausch openly confronts the complicated motivations of our

desire as spectators and explores the genesis of performative acts by examining the power

relations underlying representation. A woman in Kontakthof asks a male member of the

audience for a quarter in order to ride the electric hobby horse on the side of the stage; this

brief negotiation and her subsequent performance of sexualized passivity – in which she

blankly gazes at the audience as she rocks to the horse’s artificial cadence – expose the tacit

rules of a representational economy which regards femininity as a compulsory public service. Right before the intermission of Two Cigarettes Mechthild Grossmann comes down

to the audience and repeats in a monotone “fifty cents, cinquente centimes, fifty cents,

cinquente centimes.” We are once again publicly implicated as “members of the economy of

onlookers,” and, as Bausch puts it, “we must look again and again” (in Birringer 1986: 87,

91). Her theatre is difficult and funny precisely because it lays bare the messy, inherently

unequal, and costly business of representation, which, as Peggy Phelan reminds us, “is

almost always on the side of the one who looks, and almost never on the side of the one who

is seen” (1993: 25). If art is made at a cost, then our complicity in its making is what

Bausch, in part, would like us to experience.

As Heiner Müller noted, in Bausch’s theatre, “the image is a thorn in the eye and bodies

write a text that defies publication, the prison of meaning” (in Daly 1986: 56). Bausch’s

dancers acknowledge and often literally confront the audience with physical and psychic

scars, rendering the viewing body culpable for its presence, accountable for what it sees,

painfully aware of its own dissecting eye/I. Bausch asks her performers to play themselves in

scenes based on exercises and improvisations, located around a specific emotion. Their work

takes place in real time, and through painful exertion. In 1980, a woman skips around the

stage 50 times, repeating the phrase “I am tired” until her body is overcome with exhaustion. In Palermo, Palermo, Francis Viet plays “Stormy Weather” on a sax as votive candles drip

wax onto his flesh. In Bandoneon (1980), a dancer puts veal steaks in her shoes and dances en

pointe as blood oozes out of them. In Gebirge, a man in a leotard and tiara suddenly whips

across the stage stopping only to ask the audience. “Why are you looking at me?” The

performance in Kontakthof consists of a repeated audition; as in a dream, Bausch’s automated

dancers form single-sex “cattle call” lines and auction their bodies off to us exposing teeth,

profiles, arms, and legs. As Manning suggests, these are “images of narcissism and selfdisplay” (1986: 68). But the repeated gestures also refer to the malignant pageant our gaze

helps to produce. Through these hieroglyphic scenes we are momentarily invited into our

collective memory and placed in the role of those who – throughout history – decide which

bodies, or parts of bodies, are expendable. In moments such as these, Bausch seems to be

simultaneously drawing on Artaudian notions of the divided body of Western history – a

primal cry for lost unity – and eliciting Brecht’s much hoped for “tears from the brain.”



Figure 38.4 Exemplary moments from Two Cigarettes in the Dark (March 1985) and Nur Du (May 1996)

[Figure 38.5] in which Bausch reproduces sadistic or manipulative displays of women and

women’s bodies, a practice criticised by some feminist practitioners and scholars.


WO M A N, M A N, D O G, T R E E

Figure 38.5


Birringer, Johannes (1986) “Dancing Across Borders”. TDR 30, 2 (T110): 85–97.

Butler, Judith (1990) “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and

Feminist Theory”. In Performing Feminist Critical Theory and Theatre, edited by Sue-Ellen Case,

270–82. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Daly, Ann (1986) “Tanztheater: The Thrill of the Lynch Mob or the Rage of a Woman?” TDR 30, 2

(T110): 46–56.

Diamond, Elin (1989) “Mimesis, Mimicry, and the True-Real”. Modern Drama 32, 1: 59–72.

Goldberg, Marianne (1989) “Artifice and Authenticity”. Women and Performance 4, 2: 104–17.

Hoffman, Eva (1994) “Pina Bausch: Catching Intuitions on the Wing”. The New York Times,

11 September.



Hoghe, Raimund (1980) “The Theatre of Pina Bausch”. The Drama Review 24, 1 (T85): 63–74.

Kirchman, Kay (1994) “The Totality of the Body: An Essay on Pina Bausch’s Aesthetic”. Ballet

International/Tanz aktuell Heft 5: 37–43.

Kisselgoff, Anna (1985) “Pina Bausch Dance: Key is Emotion”. The New York Times, 4 October.

Loney, Glenn Meredith (1985) “I Pick My Dancers As People”. On the Next Wave, Brooklyn Academy of

Music 3, 1–2: 14–19.

Manning, Susan and Melissa Benson (1986) “Interrupted Continuities: Modern Dance in Germany”.

TDR 30, 2 (T110): 30–45.

Phelan, Peggy (1993) Unmasked: the politics of performance. London: Routledge.

Price, David W. (1990) “The Politics of the Body: Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater”. Theater Journal 42, 3:



Aggiss, L. and Cowie, B., eds (2006). Anarchic Dance. London: Routledge.

Butler, J. (2002). “Performative acts and gender constitution” in M. Huxley and N. Witts, eds, The

Twentieth Century Performance Reader, 2nd edn. London: Routledge, pp. 120–34.

Carter, A., ed. (1998). The Routledge Dance Studies Reader. London: Routledge.

Climenhaga, R. (2008). Pina Bausch. London: Routledge.


G. Cody (1998). “Woman, man, dog, tree: two decades of intimate and monumental bodies in

Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater,” TDR 42(2), Summer, pp. 115–23.




Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall frames Stelarc’s performance experiments in the context of nineteenth-century

human/machine narratives in which humans fought to stave off extinction in the face of a threatening machine-made rival species. Stelarc, in contrast, she argues offers an alternative scenario:

his solution is to embrace technology, rather than compete with it.

Stelarc’s work as a performance artist has run in parallel with a process of commentary in

which he elaborates on the themes and purposes underlying his experiments: “I’ve from

very early on held the view that we’ve always been prosthetic bodies. Ever since we evolved

from hominids . . . we’ve constructed artifacts, amplifications of the body. It’s part of what

we are as a human species.”1 The word always runs as a leitmotif in the commentaries,

the themes of which have not changed radically in the last twenty years. Stelarc’s Web

site maintains the archive of his texts and performances as a composite work in progress.

Preoccupied as he is with the obsolescence of the human body, there is no sense that former

stages of his own work ever become obsolete to him. The key concepts underlying it are

all current. An interest in human evolution has remained a constant focus throughout

his career, as has a view that we have brought ourselves to an evolutionary crisis point

by generating a technological environment to which we cannot effectively adapt as a purely

biological species.

New scenarios

This view contrasts with conventional popular representations of the evolutionary relationship between humans and machines – for example, in Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner

(1982, based on Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) or in the

Stanley Kubrick/Steven Spielberg film ..: Artificial Intelligence (2001), based on Brian

Aldiss’s 1969 story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long”). In the prototypical science fiction

narrative, technology evolves to the point where a rival species is generated, fuses human

and machine qualities, threatens to become dominant, and so puts biological humanity on

the road to extinction. This is a paranoid scenario, which usually plays out as a drama of

persecution in which organizations of humans rush to destroy the new species before it can

take over. The prototypical narrative here is Samuel Butler’s novel Erewhon (1872), the first



work of fiction to explore a rivalry between human and machine evolution as a Darwinian

scenario. The novel portrays an isolated community from which all machinic artifacts have

been banned. The reasons for this are revealed in a secret book, to which the narrator is

eventually allowed access. This is what he reads in its opening pages:

There is no security . . . against the ultimate development of mechanical consciousness. Reflect upon the extraordinary advance which machines have made during the

last few hundred years, and note how slowly the animal and vegetable kingdoms are

advancing. The more highly organized machines are creatures not so much of

yesterday, as of the last five minutes, so to speak, in comparison with past time.

Assume for the sake of argument that conscious beings have existed for some

twenty million years: see what strides machines have made in the last thousand!

May not the world last twenty million years longer? If so, what will they not in

the end become? Is it not safer to nip the mischief in the bud and to forbid them

further progress?2

Fear of obsolescence – of being the losing species in the competition for progress through

adaptive advantage – was already deeply embedded in the culture of the Victorian era.

In the era of advanced electronics and virtual reality, the settings of the narrative have

changed radically, but its underlying logic has changed little. The replicants in Blade Runner

and the androids in .. are also seen as rival species advancing too rapidly for the good

of their makers – as mischief to be nipped in the bud. Such narratives are, perhaps, a

psychologically inevitable accompaniment to the Darwinian view of the natural order.

But how inevitable is this paranoid tendency in our view of ourselves as a species among

others, striving to retain our position of supremacy in the hierarchy of life forms?

In Stelarc’s commentaries, technology is always conceptualized as environmental, never as

a species in itself. The scenario is one in which the human body has moved toward a condition

of potentially terminal unfitness or maladaptation because of environmental changes of its

own making, yet at this very crisis point it may discover a radically new evolutionary direction. Competition, the central driver of Darwinian evolution, is not involved here, since the

direction is triggered through multilateral fusions. As he says in an early interview, “Technology, symbiotically attached and implanted into the body, creates a new evolutionary synthesis, creates a new hybrid human – the organic and synthetic coming together to create a

sort of new evolutionary energy.”3 In the world of Erewhon, this kind of speculation is the

inside edge of technoparanoia. “Who shall say that a man does see or hear?” asks the secret

book. “He is such a swarm of parasites that it is doubtful whether his body is not more theirs

than his. . . . May not man himself become a sort of parasite upon the machines?”4

Butler is mixing a narrative of Darwinian fitness and competitive evolution with speculations that are pushing toward another kind of paradigm. While parasitism is a relationship

implying exploitation, with a winner and a loser in the struggle to profit from the environment, the view that everything is interwoven with everything else and that the parasitic

relationship is intrinsically reversible comes closer to Stelarc’s vision of multilateral organic

and synthetic fusion. There are moments when the Erewhonian “Book of the Machines”


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