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German rapture

Once upon a time, artists and musicians of international renown were an absolute rarity in Iceland. If someone famous deigned to visit our fair country and – wonders! – even played a concert or held an exhibition, the entire nation was profoundly humbled and filled with gratitude. Then came Björk and all that changed. The Elfin One toured the world and did what the Iceland Tourist Board had not managed through decades of funding – put Iceland on the map. [Never mind the fact that everyone believed this country was filled with Eskimos who talked to elves, danced around with spastic movements, picked their noses and spoke English with a cockney accent.]

So now we have international movie stars and pop icons and famous artists coming out of our ears. Hardly a month goes by when there isn’t somebody-or-other famous here, either visiting or doing whatever they’re famous for doing or, as in the case of Quentin Tarantino, getting loaded. Personally, I tend to give most such events a miss unless I really want to see the person, partly on financial grounds [tickets tend to be pricey] and partly because it just verges on overkill.

However. Last night there was an event that I would not have missed for the world. Artist: Pina Bausch. Company: Tanztheater Wuppertal. Title: Água. For those that don’t know, Pina Bausch is the undisputed empress of the art form known as Dance Theatre, which as the title suggests is a cross between modern dance and theatre. Her performances are pretty hard to describe – let’s just say they’re an absolute feast for the senses: beautiful, spectacular and a wonder to behold! All sorts of scenarios take place, almost like little skits that are isolated in time and place, meaning they don’t necessarily make up a whole, except on an abstract level. Some people read all sorts of things into them – political, etc. – but I don’t think that’s the intention. I think the idea is for you to suspend your thinking and just allow yourself to be swept away in a magical, surreal, enchanting world.

And oh how delightful if you manage it! The pieces are so visually stunning – the set, costumes, movements, lighting, and how Bausch plays with the whole. The dancers themselves are in a league of their own – they’re mature dancers, from all ethnic backgrounds, and actually have to be quite proficient in drama and bring a lot of expression to the stage. In Água, the women were dressed in stunning ball gowns and high heels almost for the duration of the piece, which lasts three hours with an intermission – although occasionally they removed the shoes if they had to do some serious dancing. On the set behind them, which was made up of three white panels, was a video broadcast of the most gorgeous scenes – palm leaves moving the breeze, the camera moving slowly through a forest, flying above a rainforest, flocks of birds flying, exotic animals. These were larger than life, so often the dancers in front looked like tiny pawns in comparison.

I could probably go on and on trying to describe what the experience was like, but I have to confess my words hardly do it justice. This was the second time I’d seen a Pina Bausch performance live – the first was in Wuppertal in Germany back in 1989, where the company is based [although they’re on tour for most of the year so they’re hardly ever there]. At the time I was not yet fluent in German so I could barely understand any spoken text; however that didn’t stop me from being blown away.

Then, as now, I found that the hour and a half before the intermission passed fairly slowly, while the hour after the intermission absolutely flew by. Last night it dawned on me why this was. It’s because it took me an hour and a half to shut off my mind. For that first while I kept frantically trying to understand or attach meaning or find some sense in the performance. It wasn’t until in the second half that I was finally attuned enough to that magical world that I was able to relax into it… and, as before, I emerged from the theatre in a virtual trance, absolutely enchanted.

It was so good, in fact, that I’m most surprised the Minister for Foreign Affairs didn’t show up to give them a book.

Overcast, with the odd drop of rain. Breezes from the northeast, currently 14°C and the sun came up at 07.01 and will set at 19.40. Day getting shorter and shorter!