Masurca Fogo, Sadler’s Wells

By guest critic Tom Brocklehurst

Any review of Pina Bausch’s work should begin with a mention of her whole body of work just in case you, dear reader, are coming to her for the first time. Bausch was an influential modern choreographer, working with the company Tanztheater (literally ‘dance-theatre’) Wuppertal from 1973 until her death in 2009. She created a great number of dance pieces, which the company now continue to tour after her death. The shows normally consist of short scenes – switching between passionate dance pieces and small comic vignettes. The tone often fluctuates wildly from piece to piece throughout the show.

Masurca Fogo, the show appearing this week at Sadler’s Wells, is a piece from 1998 when Bausch and the company were making a series of works inspired by cities. This work is inspired by Lisbon, so the company decamped to Lisbon for several weeks to soak up the atmosphere and make the work. As such, the backdrop is a huge rocky shoreline, which performers often scramble up and down, with inspiration drawn from the sea and the beach life. In one scene, the cast make a giant slip ‘n’ slide across the stage, and swim down it in bikinis. In another, a solo dancer in blue performs on top of a gigantic projection of waves – with the roar of the sea sounding in the ears of the audience. A walrus trundles across the stage.

The sex life of the city is ever-present too, with the opening scene featuring a sighing woman tired from the heat – she is soon surrounded by admirers allowing her to lie down on them. The sighing later gets a little more charged as dancers strip their clothes off and flirt with each other. There are some uncomfortable scenes – in one, Julie Shanahan appears dressed only in balloons, which the advancing men around her then pop with cigarettes.

However, the tone soon returns to lighter things. Pina was always one for a good visual gag, and this show is no exception. A glamourous lady is wheeled onto the stage in a bubble bath, only to produce some dishes from the suds, which she hands to her butler to dry. A couple share lip balm, then slip off each other’s faces when they then try to kiss.

Pina’s dance pieces, as well as her theatrical sections, are all inspired by improvisation from company members, and they always feel personal and passionate. In Masurca Fogo, the dancers whirl and cavort, suffused with restless energy – Regina Advento, the Brazilian, is particularly fantastic as she skips across the stage, eyes half-closed as if in a daydream.

 The piece overall is generally uplifting – in one scene, the dancers speedily assemble a beach hut, in which they then have a raucous party. At the end, everyone lies on the beach as if exhausted. And no wonder – this work is a whirlwind tour of a great city and its emotions. I loved it.

Masurca Fogo runs through 14 February.

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