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Auf Dem Gebirge Hat Man Ein Geschrei Gehort

A scene from Auf Dem Gebirge Hat Man Ein Geschrei Gehort by Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch. Photo: Tristram Kenton A scene from Auf Dem Gebirge Hat Man Ein Geschrei Gehort by Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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A woman walks up a wall horizontally, supported by two men; a man makes a sandwich of his forearm and offers it to the audience. Another man keeps interrupting his rendition of Cry Me a River to remove articles of clothing. There are balloons, screams, cigarettes and a lot of running around. It must be a Pina Bausch show.

Made in 1984, On the Mountain a Cry Was Heard (to give it its title in English) displays many of the trademark tropes of Bausch’s work in raw, unrefined form. Her choices of music are obvious to the point of banality – especially the repeated live recording of Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit – and her theme is delivered with all the subtlety of a hellfire sermon. The degradation and exploitation of women is the subject under discussion and she comes up with some powerful images to illustrate it.

On a stage that is covered entirely with soft earth, silencing the footfalls of the running, jumping, falling down performers, displays of bizarre violence are acted out by the extraordinary ensemble, many of whom have been with her company for decades. A repeated slap around the face is nasty and brutal but it is nothing compared with the sequence of a woman submitting to a whipping over and over again – conducted by the simple effect of a lipstick stripe across her back. A couple are chased, caught and forced into intimacy against their will; two little girls performing cartwheels in mischievous innocence are led away for their own protection – or corruption. The stage fills with smoke in a swirling, heaving gotterdammerung before dispersing into delicate cloud formations.

Frustrating and entrancing, amusing and sickening, it nonetheless reveals a clear commitment to continue her legacy following her death in 2009; this is the first of a two-part programme of works appearing in the UK for the first time.

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UK premiere for early Pina Bausch work that is equal parts terrific and tedious