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Pina Bausch’s Choreographies: a Psychoanalytic and Reader-Response Approach

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As most of us already know, dance is a very expressive form of art. One can find the inspiration for a choreography everywhere. Still, the most important parts of a dance are its meaning, its influence on the audience and the message that it tries to communicate. Pina Bausch was one of the best choreographers in the world, who succeeded in creating some of the most meaningful choreographies in dance history.

Pina Bausch was born in German and she was a performer of modern dance, a choreographer, a dance teacher and a ballet director. In 1970, she started to be the most important influence in this field, as she represented one of the main choreographers who had the courage to elaborate works in a style known as Tanztheater (“Theater Dance”). She was unique in her style, as she managed to combine perfectly elements of sound and movement and because her choreographies generated a bunch of feelings in both the dancers and the audience.

When watching a choreography of Pina Bausch, one can easily notice that it is such a complex and meaningful one. Then, questions appear. What is her inspiration? How can a human being create such works of art that contain the deepest feelings of a human mind and body? What are her goals? Well, there are answers, fortunately. As Eleonore Bayles stated in her thesis entitled Psyche Embodied; an exploration of modern dance through a psychological lens, Pina Bausch’s choreographies were, more than once, defined as being psychological, as both psychoanalysis and Bausch’s choreographies “explore the human condition through similar questions, and search for meaning in virtually identical ways” (Bayles, 87).

Bausch admitted that her works came out of her feelings, emotions, and experiences. She said: “I loved to dance because I was scared to speak. When I was moving, I could feel.” (Bayles, 10). More than that, when the choreographer was asked what inspired her, besides her own life, she answered that the biggest inspiration consisted not only of her personal experience but she even spent weeks and months trying to make her dancers express their deep feelings and use them as background for choreographies. “I’m not interested in the movement of my dancers, but in what moves them” (Bayles,79-80). One can easily observe that the relationship between her and her dancers was not just a professor-student relationship, it was deeper than that.

“Her entire choreographic process was in fact quite similar to a psychological therapy, in which individuals explore their unconscious thoughts and emotions. Bausch process was a continuous exploration. Even her final product was not considered absolute, but instead an integral part of the choreographic process” (Bayles, 80).

A daily basis of Bausch’s dancers consisted of this: the only ballet class they had was in the morning; the rest of the day they spent in Bausch’s studio, where they were asked questions till the end of the day. The process could take place in different ways: sometimes Bausch chose a theme for the questions, sometimes it was upon the dancers the way in which they wanted to answer, but other times Bausch imposed a certain way of answering. Some of them “might create a movement segment in answer to her questions, while others might just sit and speak with her about their ideas on the topic” (Bayles, 89). It was a very deep psychoanalytic process of discovering the inner self and the outer world. “Why is it called ‘LA’?” was one of Pina Bausch’s questions for the work Nur Du. The answer was: “Something kitschy”. But then she said: “Do something leading with your elbow.” “Spell Los Angeles with your body.” (Daly, 20; Bayles, 90). Dominique Mercy was one of her dancers and she stated that “She looks for material that belongs deeply, and uniquely, to each individual. She wants us.” (Daly, 20; Bayles, 90)

Consequently, as the choreographies are full of emotion and shape both her and her dancers’ personality, they, of course, generate an incredible audience response. Moreover, stating that Pina Bausch’s aim was combining theater and dance, it is obvious that the performances had the best result: the audience got fully lost in the dances and in their story. Being absorbed by the feelings that were contoured in the performances, they start to reflect on their own life. “For many audiences, watching a Pina Bausch piece is an internal rollercoaster, an experience of inner reflection and questioning…” (Bayles, 79)

Maybe one of her goals was even to make the audience pass through what her dancers had passed. Pina Bausch wanted the audience to ask themselves questions, to find answers, to find their true self and analyze it. Even when watching a documentary movie about her life and career or a video on Youtube.com with a performance, someone is able to get out of the place they are at the moment, and lose themselves fully in the movements, in the struggles and, of course, in the story of the dance. One can experience a great emotional process which comes out of the video. All of her works contain such deep messages and histories, that it is impossible not to go with the flow.

For example, in “Rite of Spring”, the performance begins with a woman lying on a red material. No one else is on the stage. Then, another woman comes running and bares her body, which can be a sign of the desire of showing to the world the real image of her life and personality, to show that SHE is real. More and more women appear, each of them having a unique message to convey. They are not moving in the same way, each of them has her own movement and style, which underlines again the fact the Pina Bausch did a great job in shaping their unique personalities on the stage.

As the performance continues, the movements, from being low and smooth, become fixed, more intense, more expressive. Everything seems to change when the woman lying on the red material leaves it on the ground. They start moving in the same way, their movements being grave and burdensome. More than that, the music, Igor Stravinsky’s song “The Rite of Spring”, offers the dance an even more pressing state. All of these generate intense emotions for the audience. The dancers keep the audience there and their heart starts beating faster and faster. When the men appear on the stage, everything changes. The relationship between men and women is shaped. Then, again, the whole attention shifts to the red material, as everyone and every feeling move around it.

In consequence, after watching one of Bausch’s choreographies, “Many audiences have found that they connect with her work on an emotional level that they had never before encountered. Perhaps this was because Bausch’s work was made for the here and now.” (Bayles, 102-103). Pina Bausch addressed to each person, she didn’t choose to address to the audience as a whole, but to individuals. Because of this, every person that watches a choreography created by Bausch feels that he or she is being addressed directly, he or she feels that the dancers talk exactly to him or her and provoke him or her to think about their movements and to complete the performance with emotions of him or her. The choreographies cannot be completed without audience’s contribution. This is why Pina Bausch’s works can be interpreted in millions of ways and each of the interpretation is valid (Bayles, 104-105).

Concluding, after analyzing briefly Pina Bausch’s work and her contribution to dance, one can surely say that she was one of the greatest choreographers in dance history. It is clear that her work did not consist only of dancing, but also of intense psychological sessions with her dancers, trying to discover their personality and giving them the opportunity to “dance”, to “vocalize” their deepest feelings through movements. In fact, she succeeded in doing the same thing indirectly to the audience, through her performances and choreographies. Pina Bausch was a symbol of unicity profoundness.

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"Pina Bausch’s Choreographies: a Psychoanalytic and Reader-Response Approach." GradesFixer, 27 Apr. 2018, https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/pina-bauschs-choreographies-a-psychoanalytic-and-reader-response-approach/. Accessed 5 June 2020.
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