In his performance I love my dancers, Uri Turkenich looked at Pina Bausch’s work from 1977 and 1978 in a staged discussion with Geraldo Si, a former Tanztheater Wuppertal dancer.
A publication, also called I love my dancers, included interviews with artists, journalists and experts whose paths crossed Pina Bausch in the late 1970s. Linking these individual life stories, which are in turn linked to Bausch’s work, also unveils an image of the artistic and socio-political climate in West Germany at the time.
The performance worked with the information collected in the interviews, and by putting it into a performative setting attempted to establish a reverberation chamber that made it possible to look back into the past as well as reflect on the present.
You can see another excerpt from the performance here.
by Franziska Aigner und Uri Turkenich
In the following pages you will read an investigation into the past in the form of a collection of interviews. We, Franziska Aigner and Uri Turkenich, the authors of the interviews, set out to speak with the generation that created the German Tanztheater with the purpose of telling a story about deep changes in the field of dance that began at the end of 1970s. In our opinion, these changes were related to collapses in the division of labour between the choreographers, dancers and other players in the dance field. It was around this time that Pina Bausch started to ask her dancers questions and they, in response, started to create their own dance material. We recognized these working methods in our own working situations, which led us to ask these questions: What initiated these changes? What started the shift away from the clear division of roles in which the choreographer would provide the movements and steps? What were the inner dynamics of this transformation like? How was it that this change in working methods and relations came about in the dance scene of post-war Germany, and what role did Bausch’s question-method play in this shift?
To these questions we received several answers. In extended conversations, we sat down with Raimund Hoghe, Susanne Linke, Dominique Mercy, William Forsythe, Reinhild Hoffmann and Vivienne Newport. We asked each artist to speak about their life and their approach to making choreography and dance in the ’70s and ’80s in West Germany. Some of the artists worked side by side with Bausch, others shared similar concerns with her, while others started making their own work at the same time. Each artist’s story reflects the concerns of the time we were inquiring about. Read together, the stories also tell about a shift in working methods and relations that resonates with the broader socio-political transformations that were taking place in German society itself.
In 2001, dance and performance scholar André Lepecki wrote an article about Bausch’s beginnings with Tanztheater Wuppertal:
By positioning the dancer in the place of producer of knowledge rather than passive recipient of previously elaborated steps, and by allowing the dancers expressivity to escape from the self-contained realm of “pure movement”, Pina Bausch was changing the entire epistemological stability of the dance field. […] The shift proposed by Bausch was not just compositional, aesthetic or dramaturgical. Its maximum impact was primarily epistemological: by asking questions and listening to answers, she transformed the field of dance by redistributing the position of “who retains the knowledge”. […] From then on, the doors were open to all sorts of collapses. The neat stability of the epistemological triangle under which dance found its purity and that grounded the authority of the critic and the theorist is undermined. We are now in a totally different field.
One of these further collapses mentioned by Lepecki in his text alludes to that of the difference between the roles played by technical expertise and lived experience. By being asked questions that drew upon their personal life, the dancers in Tanztheater Wuppertal began to provide lived experience in addition to technical expertise (in the sense of professionally acquired dance/movement expertise) as material for the creation of the choreography. It is here that Bausch’s working method seems to pre-figure what would emerge from the ’90s onwards and which could be called cognitive capitalism. The form of work demanded by cognitive capitalism is dependent on the very conflation of the public and the private. It calls upon its workers to understand themselves – their language capacities, their bodies and lives – as a project to be improved upon, worked on and, ultimately, capitalized upon. Cognitive capitalism is referenced in Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi’s book The Soul at Work, where he describes the political events and shifts in working relations in Italy around the year 1977:
This colonization of the soul and its desire – the entry of the soul itself into the production process – spawns paradoxical effects. It transforms labor-power into what managerial theories call human capital, harnessing and putting to work not as an abstract, general force of labor, but the particularity, the unique combination of psychic, cognitive and affective powers I bring to the labor process. Because this contemporary reformatting functions through the incitement of my specific creative and intellectual powers, I experience work as the segment of social life in which I am most free, most capable of realizing my desires: most myself.
The questions we posed in the interviews were concerned with this merging of the public and the private in work. By asking questions about Bausch’s questions, and addressing these questions to some of the same people that Bausch addressed her questions to, several recurrent themes came to light. Firstly, we observed how Bausch’s method of questioning led the way to the particular aesthetics of Tanztheater Wuppertal. Secondly, we noticed that the stories they told created an image not only of the context surrounding the artistic community of Tanztheater Wuppertal but also one of the larger socio-political and historical problematics shaping the life of each interviewee in Germany at the time. Finally, our focus on the working relations between the choreographer and the dancer can be seen through a multitude of voices that contributed to and brought about the shift in working relations at the time.
After a number of interviews, we also realized that these working relations exposed themselves more and more as a struggle – a struggle about power, visibility and responsibility, both in the dance studio as well as on stage. Even though the dancers were asked to speak and dance about their lives, it remained Bausch’s role to integrate and transform the heterogeneous materials derived from the dancer’s lives into one clear voice – that of her own. It is here that the lived experience of the dancers working with Bausch on her pieces exposes itself in its essential precarity. By giving a form to the dancers’ lived experiences, a process of the erasing of their voices also occurs, if not entirely, at least to a certain degree. How can we write about the precarity of the dancers’ voices that were incorporated into Bausch’s work? And furthermore, by incorporating the multitude of voices of Bausch’s colleagues and contemporaries into our own project, won’t we make ourselves an agent in a similar problem of appropriation and homogenization? We knew that something definitive had changed during Pina Bausch’s work with Tanztheater Wuppertal. But what kind of voice and what kind of form could communicate that change in its complexity while paying tribute to the multitude of voices that stepped to the fore in that change? In “On the Concept of History”, Walter Benjamin writes: “To articulate what is past does not mean to recognize ‘how it really was’. It means to take control of a memory, as it flashes in a moment of danger.”
Following Benjamin, it becomes clear that the struggle between the multitude of voices of the dancers of Tanztheater Wuppertal and the single voice of Pina Bausch framing all of these voices into her work can never be settled once and for all. Instead, it is that very struggle that structures and lives on in the ways that we tell the story of “what happened then” again and again.
Concluding this introduction, we would like to note that this project was created together with a performance called “I love my dancers” by Uri Turkenich, the performance and the interview collection supported each other so it would be possible for the project to become public. And finally we would like to thank the inspiring and generous artists whose voices appear in the following interviews: Raimund Hoghe, Susanne Linke, Dominique Mercy, William Forsythe, Reinhild Hoffmann and the late Vivienne Newport. We would further like to thank our dear friends and colleagues Tessa Theisen, Samuel Forsythe, Sebastian Schulz, Jasna Layes Vinovrski, Geraldo Si, Prof. Dr. Gerald Siegmund and Tove Gerge for thinking together with us and talking to us. Without you, none of this would be possible.
Franziska Aigner trained as a dancer and choreographer at P.A.R.T.S. Brussels, before obtaining an MA in Choreography at ATW Gießen and an MA in Philosophy at CRMEP, Kingston University London. She is active as a performer in the field of dance and visual arts as well as working as a writer and editor.
Uri Turkenich is a choreographer, writer and artist. He graduated from the MA program for Choreography at the University of Dance in Stockholm. In his own works he is concerned with notions of history, change and desire. Around these notions he makes art-works alone and in various collaborations and encourages a development of discourses.
A series of interviews with artists involved with Tanztheater Wuppertal explores changes in the field of dance in the ‘70s and ‘80s in West Germany. Starting with Pina Bausch, the relation between choreographer and dancer shifted, blurring the line of role division. Raimund Hoghe, Susanne Linke, Dominique Mercy, William Forsythe, Reinhild Hoffmann and Vivienne Newport reflect on those changes, which coincided with broader socio-political transformations that were taking place in German society at the time.
Pina Bausch, Tanztheater Wuppertal, dance theatre in West Germany, the art of dance, oral history, cognitive capitalism, Walter Benjamin.
 Andre Lepecki, “Dance Without Distance”, Ballettanz, 1 February 2001, http://sarma.be/docs/606 (29th Nov 2016).
 Jason Smith, “Preface: Soul on Strike”, in Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, The Soul at Work, Los Angeles: Semiotexte, 2009, pp. 12–14.
 Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History”, 2005, transl. Dennis Redmond, https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/benjamin/1940/history.htm (29th Nov 2016).