Created in 1978 by internationally renowned choreographer Pina Bausch, Kontakthof is one of her multiple Tanztheater Wuppertal creations-a form of expressionist dance which can also be named dance theatre. The title is derived from Kontakt ‘contact’ and Hof ‘court, ‘courtyard of contact’, which is also a technical term for an area in some brothels where people first meet. Kontakthof opens in a formal dance hall setting of the 1920s with tango playing in the background and around twenty two dancers in suits and evening dresses. You are thinking that you are about to witness a ballroom dance. Instead what unfolds is a game of seduction. Pina Bausch addresses some burning societal issues: how our bodies are controlled by social norms, how suffering is part of the seduction game, how women’s bodies are objectified. The opening scene sets the ambience for the rest of the performance. The performers come forward to expose themselves to the audience, front, back, in profile, check their teeth, show their arms and their chest. The characters on stage did everything they could to please someone at the party. While this is a relatable experience for many in the audience, the choreography goes beyond that to explore the brutal nature of the power game in gender relations.
Once again, the internationally acclaimed company Tanztheater Wuppertal perform with verve alternating with sequences of effusion, humour and tenderness. Through an awe-inspiring performance, the dancers navigate between different characters: the femme fatale, the naive woman and the woman blowing up due to societal pressure. Kontakthof performed 40 years ago for the first time in London has not lost its relevance in the current times. Bausch’s piece is constructed of short units of dialogue and action, presenting a surreal intermingling of acts. In a succession of scenes, women progressively lose themselves under the oppressive male influence. Pina Bausch blurs the line between sensuality and violence, confronting the audience with the uncomfortable topic of the objectification of women, while also generating laughs due to the absurdity of some seductive acts.
The objectification of women was inspired by Bausch’s own experience in her audition as a dancer in New York: “It’s the idea of being judged on how you look – from the front, from the side, from the back. You didn’t get a chance to do anything”. Pina Bausch chose to explore through her experiences, alternating between social pressure on bodies and moments in which the performers break away from these structures, moving their bodies as they please.
Kontakthof is a powerful piece- the human sentiments expressed in this work are timeless. It is a reflection of the complex relationship between man and woman and how social pressures affect our minds and bodies.
Image Source: Sadler’s Wells Press
Kontakthof runs until February 6th 2022 at Sadler’s Wells. https://www.sadlerswells.com/whats-on/tanztheater-wuppertal-pina-bausch-kontakthof/
Reviewed by Alix Berthelot–Moritz- Alix is a volunteer writer for Abundant Art. Originally from Normandy, France, she follows her passion for journalism and art by studying at the European Political and Social Sciences of UCL, London. As an international student living in London, she is determined to fully experience and discover the entirety of the city’s vibrant arts scene and share the beauty of it through her writing.