More than one person around me recently has been loudly annoyed that Michael Jackson’s death is a Bigger Deal than that of Pina Bausch. Sure, MJ is a pop idol, an icon, an image. But Pina Bausch has re-taught us how to look at the body: as far as 20th-century art goes, Bausch is as important as Picasso, Beckett.
It is not quite apt to compare the two. Pina’s death, however unexpected, is not a tragedy: Bausch has not only achieved so much that modern dance will take another 100 years to chew through it, she was also an elderly woman. Michael Jackson was 50, not in the dying age.
There is something dirty about Michael Jackson’s death, just like there was in his life. Kathy Charles has put it the best: “I feel sadness but also a sense of relief that this is all over, that we finally have permission to remember the joy Michael Jackson brought the world, and not be distracted by the grotesque charade his life had become.” It all feels uncomfortably akin to the aftermath of a particularly extravagant orgy, with dismembered, unconscious hookers lying around. “Can someone clean them up?”, the lord of the manor asks. Once they’re gone, the men can sip cognac and reminisce on the gorgeous night they’ve had. Now that the decaying body of the pop king is removed from the scene, we can remember the fantasy boy we have created: a delusion without the monstrous mirror-image.
Pina Bausch, on the other hand, has left us with utmost grace. She has become one of those rare women who are discussed as creators, professionals first, and women second. (Hopefully, there will be no biopic, or re-write of this story, in which she becomes a woman with a broken heart who exorcises romantic disappointment in work, a la Coco Chanel in the recent cinematic wonder.) I count Bausch as one of the most important artists to me, and I have never even seen her work live. Like Hideaki Anno, mere descriptions sufficed to send my brain into overdrive.
Deutsche Welle, which broke the story to the English-speaking world, says in its obituary: She was the biggest choreographer in the world. At Village Voice, Deborah Jowitt writes an In Memoriam:
Whether you loved Bausch’s work or hated it, you wouldn’t dream of not going to see it. And many young New York choreographers, schooled in Merce Cunningham’s the-movement-is-the-meaning principles, were both impressed and excited. As Jane Comfort remarked in a 1988 interview, “When we saw Pina Bausch, it was a shock; it was almost like she was giving Americans permission to use expressive movement again.”
The Guardian is running a Pina Bausch special, well worth reading through. Luke Jennings gives an overview of Bausch’s work. Fiona Shaw writes:
“She washes clean the human soul on and off the stage. She shows in her scenarios our addiction to causing and receiving pain and our ecstasy at being human. When you see the work – the repetition of human love gestures, aborted wishes, rejection, inadequacy, desolation and absurdity – you still come out thrilled to be a member of the human race.”
In the tributes, the likes of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Wayne McGregor, Pedro Almodovar (who, together with Fellini, has used Bausch in his films), Wim Wenders (who never managed to), Alain Platel, talk about the importance of her work. Jan Fabre adds a rather beautiful, big thought: “I imagine that she died with a cigarette in her mouth: you have to stay loyal to the things that kill you.”
Among the blogs, a commentary by George Hunka; while James Waites shares a collection of rare photos from Bausch’s visit to Adelaide in 1982.
Finally, here is what JUICE (ImPulsTanz newsletter), which has just landed into my inbox, has to say:
Like The Loss Of Sunlight / On A Cloudy Afternoon / Gone Too Soon
Like A Castle / Built Upon A Sandy Beach / Gone Too Soon
Like A Perfect Flower / That Is Just Beyond Your Reach /Gone Too Soon
Born To Amuse, To Inspire, To Delight / Here One Day / Gone One Night
Like A Sunset / Dying With The Rising Of The Moon / Gone Too Soon
So floral – it could be an hommage to The Grand Pina. Instead it’s MJ, “Dangerous”, 1991.
A gigantic Châpeau, The Real Big Sombrero to both of them for having drawn so many people to dance all those years.
Me, I am a little bit devastated, the way you are when someone you don’t know at all dies. The way you are when you know you will never be able to have a conversation with them, however unlikely.