A few years ago, I watched a recording of Café Müller by Pina Bausch, and in doing so, I was opened up to a sea of choreographic possibility. In short, the work gives off an asylum / institution vibe that was autobiographically stimulated by Bausch’s observation of her father’s work in a Café just after WW2 in Germany. At the time of watching, I didn’t know what it was about, but I knew that it relieved the feeling that my creativity was bound by rules of dance composition. From this, I began to see how choreographers, like Bausch, gathered creative impulse not from a set of tools, but from direction that was intrinsic to the work. A powerful moment in this piece, for me, was when a performer (originally Pina) is moving through the “café” amongst multiple tables and chairs, in a dreamlike state with eyes closed, without ever hitting anything. She is saved from collision by another, who urgently removes any obstacles in her path. Watch the clip below and make note of not only what sticks with you, but how it makes you think differently about composition. Here are five of my notes…

  • One person’s ecstasy (not literally) can be chaos for others and it is extremely engaging to show this physically. This juxtaposition emerges as one person moves at a slow, quiet and sensual pace as others move quickly, loudly and urgently.
  • Take time to let the scene reveal itself. At the beginning, rather than the performers all being in the space, at separate tables, there is one body on stage, then two, then three, then one. This leads to the next point.
  • The whole cast of performers do not need to be seen in equal amounts. This is something to acknowledge as soon as possible, particularly if you come from a dance school where your teachers has been forced to have everyone “seen”. To have everyone on stage constantly creates an unnecessary headache for the audience and the work.
  • If working with music and silence, a sharp or significant movement can be used to reintroduce the music. Bausch uses this multiple times throughout Cafe Müller.
  • If the work doesn’t call for a unison section, then don’t create one. A few years ago, I was searching for a formula to create a good group dance work and oftentimes I would hear people say “what about a unison section”, which essentially means, why don’t all the dancers come together, just for the sake of coming together.

Other things I have been pondering this week are uses of multiple objects in the performance space and the significance of how our own perception of art impacts our creative process.

Rowena x

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