Pina Bausch’s dances get stuck in your head. Inspired by personal memories, the late German choreographer’s performances are evocative, often absurd, and always unexpected. In her work, women scream in fields of flowers, dancers toss buckets of water onstage, and a woman applies lipstick while someone pours a water bottle over her head. The images are hard to forget.
Next month, for the first time in 30 years, two of her most celebrated dances return to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York: Café Müller and The Rite of Spring, playing September 14–24. The pieces were last performed at BAM in the 1980s, after Bausch’s dance company Tanztheater Wuppertal debuted in New York in 1984.
In Café Müller, a sleepwalking woman stumbles through a dark café (apparently an autobiographical piece). Too clean for your taste? In The Rite of Spring, 32 dancers crawl through actual dirt onstage (which represents desire). The dance was such a hit (complete with sold-out crowds and standing ovations) that the New York Times’ review led with, “The word was out, the place was mobbed,” to describe the excitement surrounding the show.
Bausch was known for asking her dancers to act out personal moments in their lives, as she liked to create larger performances from their memories. There’s also a lot of acting in her work (Tanztheater translates to “dance theater” in German). Her longtime friend and collaborator Wim Wenders explained Bausch’s approach to Vulture in 2011, saying “… she wasn’t into any of the aesthetics of dance — she didn’t even care. She once said, ‘I’m not interested in how my dancers move at all. I only want to know what moves them.’”
Click through to see some exclusive archival photos of Bausch’s time at BAM, including a costume made of balloons, dancers spinning in water, and ceremonial citrus eating.