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Travelers transformed

In 'Ten Chi,' choreographer Pina Bausch roams through Japan with her distinctive style.

November 10, 2007|Lewis Segal | Times Staff Writer

What we bring to and take away from a foreign environment has been the subject of six Neo-Expressionist dance-theater travelogues by German choreographer and company leader Pina Bausch. The most recent -- her typically cornucopian, plotless Japanese extravaganza, "Ten Chi" -- received its North American premiere Thursday in Royce Hall as part of the UCLA Live series.

What Bausch brings to a foreign environment is, of course, her Tanztheater Wuppertal, a constellation of performers as distinctive in personality as in dance skill. So whether the setting is the California redwoods or the land of the rising sun, you're likely to find Dominique Mercy in strange apparel, Mechthild Grossmann making enigmatic pronouncements and Nazareth Panadero taking visceral delight in just about everything.

You're also likely to find supremely talented young dancers from nearly everywhere doing restless contemporary solos crammed with twisty gestural detail -- her women, in particular, brilliant at defining deep states of feeling at high speed. Act 2 of this two-part, three-hour piece from 2004 begins with a glorious string of them -- the joyously childlike Ditta Miranda Jasjfi, the torn-apart Thusnelda Mercy, the self-absorbed Julie Shanahan -- their solos divided by speeches and physical comedy about things Japanese.

There's a lesson in bowing and ultra-proper feminine behavior; stances suggesting the martial arts; displays of fans, exotic vegetables and face-painting; a vignette about an apologetic tour guide whose group (the audience) obviously doesn't want to leave; an elaborate undressing and dressing ceremony for Mercy and Kenji Takagi; and a loving list of all the electronics you can own that come from Japan.

And if brand names such as Hitachi inspire reverence from Fernando Suels Mendoza, just wait until you hear Grossmann gobble up every syllable of those delicious Japanese words "samurai, "sushi" "geisha," "Mt. Fuji" and more.

Bausch's Japan looks like a burial ground belonging to the nation's internationally condemned whaling industry: A giant tail fin and other body parts stick out of the stage in Peter Pabst's set. Meanwhile, costume designer Marion Cito favors gleaming, body-hugging gowns for the company women and dark casual wear for the men. Nature and artifice, the eternal landscape and footloose escapades are all deliriously scrambled. Since formal structure interests Bausch as much as discontinuity, you can expect an elegant recapitulation of all the things that popped out of nowhere bracketing each half of "Ten Chi." After a quirky opening solo by Jasjfi, Act 1 emphasizes, for a time, night fantasies and water images. But before intermission, while Pablo Aran Gimeno solos lyrically, white flakes begin to fall -- not a light "Nutcracker" snowfall but a veritable blizzard, so dense that company members nearly become lost when they dance upstage.

Indeed, the steady energy and spatial dominance of the flakes condition everything you see thereafter: all the solos and wooing games of Act 2, plus the big recap-finale, in which clouds of white swirl around the dancers' feet. Much of the recorded music you hear in Act 1 you will hear again and is credited to 17 sources. It is seldom as dominant as either the texts or the flakes and sometimes just a low rhythmic pulse far away.

Bausch uses not only the Royce Hall stage but the auditorium, so if you're sitting in the front rows, you're likely to be quizzed by Mercy on your ability to snore, invited to let Panadero count on your fingers and regaled with Grossmann's confessions. "I would like to wander around at night and molest sons of man," she intones early on -- and remains true to her words.

Entrances and exits continually occur in front of the proscenium, so "Ten Chi" isn't like one of those touring productions that are set so far back from the audience they might as well be on film. No, Bausch's dance-theater is always a triumphant demonstration and affirmation of individuality -- and yours is an essential part of the picture.


Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal

Where: Royce Hall, UCLA, Westwood

When: 8 p.m. today, 2 p.m. Sunday

Price: $38 to $76

Contact: (310) 825-2101 or

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