Many of us probably saw the horrifying videos of the new collective rapes that happened in the last few weeks on Tahrir Square by groups of men who took advantage of the political crowd in order to commit the unforgivable. These assaults on women occurred several times in the past already and I invite my readers to look at the work Bridgette Auger (see past article) has been doing to document these extremely violent acts. How can art express this unbearable violence that has been perpetuated for centuries by men on women? The work of Pina Bausch has such a strong response to this question that it allows us to wonder how deep can art go.
The violence on the female body is one of the recurrent themes in Pina Bausch’s work; sometimes it is introduced in the context of a continuous struggle in life, but often, the body seems to be simply dispossessed of any vitality and treated as an object that can be pushed, pulled, thrown, molested, hit, carried, fingered etc. Such a violence made Anne Linsel, director of the documentary about Pina Bausch, Tanzträume (Dancing Dreams), to explain that when her mother saw her film, she could link these gestures to what she had lived in the concentration camps during the Second World War.
Two of her works in particular, Blaubart and Café Muller, respectively created in 1977 and 1978, are highly expressive in this matter. Café Muller‘s stage is full of chairs that a man attempts to quickly divert from the trajectory of a woman somnambulist — the dancer, originally Pina Bausch, is therefore closing her eyes — who always end up colliding with the wall in a blind violence that cannot leave us indifferent and that re-affirm the power of architecture on the bodies. Later in the performance, a man — one might say an angel like the ones in Wings of Desire — keeps putting a woman’s body in the arms of a man who, each time, let it fall on the floor. Blaubart (Bluebeard), based on the tale of the same name, finds its very essence in the violence on the female body: Bluebeard is a nobleman who slaughter his wives, one by one, in a room of his castle. Pina Bausch bases her choreography on the violence expressed between the male and the female body. The latter is continuously prostrated and in between a few attempts to flee from its rapist/murderer, it is mistreated like an object on stage: thrown against the wall, pull to the floor, embraced abruptly…
What we see as spectators is difficult to look at, as we know that the dancer’s body itself is subjected to all this violence: there is no “cheating,” violence cannot be expressed by anything else than itself. As I have been written in a past article about Pina Bausch, the material environment that surrounds these bodies is far from being innocent. The noise of the body bluntly encountering this environment, floor or wall, constitutes each time a strike in the spectator’s stomach. How deep can art go to express the forces of the real, violence included? An answer to this question probably lies in what we, spectators, but also the dancers, get out of it. Pina Bausch force us to look at the violence of a part of human interactions and, far from making us think of it as an aesthetic experience, she contributes to our profound revulsion for it in such a way that no text seems to be able to describe it.