Over the years I have read a few books since I started on my own journey that has really helped, been profound or I have found in some way deeply grounding. I guess when we can truly relate to someone else it’s hugely helpful for our own journey. I think this is why I study so many biographies of pioneering people.
This book on Pina Bausch has been eagerly awaited by me since I went to see the 3D film Pina a number of times in the last few years.
So what do I relate to in Pina that has been so profoundly helpful for me? Firstly, her work at times can be quite challenging for the audience she had a deep desire to show very complex difficult themes in humans such as humiliation. I can often read humiliation on people as tattoos. It’s one of the most damaging aspects of education. There is a sense of her taking in vast arrays of human interactions to honestly reveal them. It’s all condensed and presented easily to people for them to absorb. She was fascinated not only by the complexities of emotions but the contradictions within people. I have whole notebooks of these contractions as they determine the needs.
Mostly I was delighted to understand that she disliked labels and never wanted to explain her work to anyone. I personally hate talking about my work. I loathe that question; “what do you do?”. She wanted each person to take their own interpretation and experience for themselves. In the same way, I struggle to explain to people what I’m going to do working with them and everyone describes it as a personal journey in the end.
What struck me when I went to the see the film was the interviews with the dancers who said phrases such as ” I never had the words to express myself before I met Pina”. I think expression is possibly one of the most key elements on the planet for me.
There was a sense for me in watching and reading about Pina that she was frustrated, bored and couldn’t find a channel for her thoughts and ideas. This was when she started to “make something for herself”. She sought a new language, “a new set of vocabulary”. I guess I felt identical when I started my own school. I’d done so much time in everyone else mould of education and I couldn’t find a way to truly express what I wanted to achieve from within the system so I made a school.
Most of all I love the way she worked with her team of dancers. She started everything with questions. She revelled in difference. She wanted to look right into people and see something that made her curious about them. This approach of questions and x-ray stare will be familiar to anyone who’s worked with me.
Her team was completely international and the universal themes in the work brought by this mix of people could transcend across the globe. Pina says ” You have to care for them and very slowly allow them to grow. Which requires huge mutual trust”. There are so few people who have this core of strength within themselves that they can give others freedom to grow. People’s insecurities all too often cause them to need to control others. A huge dilemma within the conventional education models.
Pina developed work with people. It was a process that I find I can truly relate too. It’s often hard for people to hear that I construct what I will do with them as the sessions develop. It’s clear to me always where we need to go. Pina didn’t start at the beginning of the work either. Which I can also completely relate too. I always keep the end goal in mind. That is what we are working back from.
Pina understood the importance of research and learning by working with international people. She talks about not being a tourist but having the opportunity to work within different cultures. This was also the reason I took such a huge step in closing my school. I didn’t want to become localised. I knew it was important to have the knowledge that working internationally with people would bring to me.
Pina seems to have been acutely aware of the differences of working with Men and Women. I create completely different sessions for both genders and see great differences as developing children too. I think the furthest we have really got into this understanding in the education system is whether to put them together or not.
Pina had a great understanding of what an audience needed to relate to a piece. She knew that the what was being conveyed would be universally understood if they had seen something honest, true and quite exposing from the dancers themselves. This is something I really struggle to explain to people. How can you make a person you haven’t worked with yet understand that through trust, respect and a well-crafted journey that they will own their experiences more deeply?
One of the reasons I read biographies is to understand the importance of having the courage to follow your own ideas, ways of thinking, ways of seeing the world. But Pina also followed her intuition and dreams which I totally relate to too.
Of course, there are simple similarities I relate to too such as the need to work independently to think up new ideas, often late at night. The fact that she was described as horrendously organised! The fact that it’s almost impossible to separate out the work and person life. All these speak of a person that I would have loved to have known in person.
Ironically, The challenge for me is to find a way to express what I do in a way that allows others to experience it. That I don’t have the outlet or forum of a stage to create this is somewhat of a challenge. Similar to Pina I don’t like labels and I don’t want to explain everything. I want others to feel something different, more balanced that they can take on board for themselves. Ownership of your own expression is very important for me.
Pina Bausch created a legacy in an archive of work and a foundation. Every prop or piece of scenery was saved from her shows even as she was developing her works. She set out precisely what she wanted to belong in the archive and how she even wanted to see it structured.
It’s clear to me that I need a foundation for my work long term. Not for the monitory reasons that I’ve been encouraged to have one in the past but for the set guidelines on how my methods should be used for other generations. A protection to the integrity of the work.
I deeply grateful to Marion Mayer & Penny Black (translator) for the long anticipated book.