Pina Bausch, festival culture and the impact of 1980 in 1982

This paper was presented at the Australasian Drama and Performance Studies Association (ADSA) conference in Launceston, Tasmania, 25-28 June 2019. The conference theme was Festivals & Performance. it is a first pass on a larger project on the impact of Pina Bausch on Australian dance making. My next intention is to interview other artists for whom their visit to the Adelaide festival in 1982, and seeing Bausch, was of significance. Later, with my colleague Dr Laura Ginters, we will be looking at the impact of German performance practices and practitioners on Australian performance and Australian artists more widely. My forthcoming book Dancing at the Edge of the World also looks at some early dance artists who brought the German Mary Wigman’s work to Australia across the late 1920s and the 1930s.


“It was a hot night in Adelaide in 1982 and I was sitting in a ramshackle town hall about to watch a dance piece, Kontakthof, created by a German choreographer I had barely heard of, Pina Bausch. The hall was so stifling that people were fanning themselves with their programs. A few minutes into the show I forgot the heat and the rough seats. At the end I couldn’t move for some time. I was dazed, elated, awed and moved as never before.” (Louis Nowra, 2011. The Monthly). Following Nowra’s reflection, this paper will explore the reception of Bausch’s company at the 1982 Adelaide Festival, where the company presented not only Kontakhof, but also Bluebeard and 1980. As others have explained, an arts festival can be an “open social space” where an “otherwise socially and culturally marginalized people or cultural form” can be seen; impacting on audiences and artists alike (Bennett and Woodward 2014, p. 17). The Adelaide Festival in 1982 was a place where a community of artists gathered – where people and practices from a multitude of places found themselves in close proximity. This paper will explore how the experience of seeing Bausch in the context of a national/international festival in Australia in the 1980s, impacted on the Australian artists who were there. It will ask: what did they see; how did the festival context enhance their experience; and how did the experience of seeing Bausch impact on their approach to performance-making across the decade(s) that followed?


Pina Bausch, festival culture and the impact of 1980 in 1982.

Amanda Card

 You can smell the turf. A stuffed “doe perches upstage […], its head turned towards the audience.[1]” At the side of the grass are large lights, but much of the performance is lit from above, the recesses of side stage in shadow. There is a microphone.

 “A [man] enters, sits, adjusts the microphone and begins to eat from a large bowl, dedicating each spoonful ‘pour maman’ and ‘pour papa’. A woman [enters], sits, sparks a lighter, sing[ing] “Happy Birthday to me””. She “blows out the flame and counts ‘one’ [2]”. This is not the only time Happy Birthday is sung, at one stage the performers harmonise in a clustered circle with cake on plates and poised knives.

 A woman and man stand facing each other. She puts on lipstick, holds the man by his left shoulder pulling him toward her as she kisses him three times – cheek, chin, jaw. She reapplies the lipstick, takes hold of his left shoulder again, pulls him to her as she kisses him three times – temple, over the eyebrow, forehead. She applies the lipstick again. As his face fills with red smudged kisses, she moves the collar of his shirt and kisses him on the neck, then reapplies her lip stick again, and again. This is a task, a process that takes the time it takes. It is over when she has filled his face. She kisses him on the mouth once and then walks away. He stays for a second or two without response and then does the same.

 A woman marches onto the stage explaining the landscape – grass, hill, river she says – Australia she says – but you can’t walk on the grass. Forward, sideways, backwards – she mutters about the scary wild life, the frogs, the noise. She retreats: “I want to be alone”.  She advances, lights a cigarette: “I’ve got to relax”.  There’s only one way to get some peace. She puts a gun to her temple, rushes forward, but her rush slows to a saunter – a smile plays on the misshapenly applied red lipsticked lips: “What’s a nice boy like you doin’ in a place like this?” she asks. “Lotta graaasss” she notes, in a bad, broad American drawl.

She switches to skittish panic and rushes down stage, across and up again, on her tippy toes.

 “When I go home at night, I get my lips really wet, so I can scream just in case someone is behind me. And then I’ll run to the next apartment and ring all the bells to wake everybody up, in case somebodies behind me. I’m going to get my lips really wet so I can scream just in case someone is behind me. And then run to the next apartment and ring all the bells to wake everybody up, in case somebodies behind me. When I go to bed at night I look under my bed to see if there are any bodies under my bed and then I get in my bed, and then I look inside my bed just to see if any bodies hiding in there.”

 Another woman enters telling the same story. Someone else arrives, but he’s not afraid of the dark – his older brother gets into bed with him, its sort of creepy, and tells him not to be afraid.

Soon the stage is full of suited men and high heeled women in gowns rushing about, miming getting into bed, talking about being afraid or not of the dark.

 Everyone exits

 A girl skips onto, and around and around the stage waving a white handkerchief above her head repeating, in a sing songy voice, “I’m tir..ed, I’m tir..ed, I’m tire…ed”, to the strains of Brahms Lulluby sung in German. Of course, at first she is not – tired that is. But she keeps skipping and skipping and waving and waving, around and around the stage she eventually becomes exceedingly tired. “Round and round she goes until her chant is interrupted by gasps for breath, her steps falter, and her arm shakes with the effort of holding the fabric aloft.[3]

This is 1980 – a piece by Pina Bausch.

This is a paper about this piece, when it was performed at the Adelaide Festival in 1982.

 As Lucy Wray explained, when she saw the work remounted by Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in 2014, 5 years after Pina’s death in 2009, 1980 was “noticeably less violent than many of [Pina’s] other works[4]” especially Bluebeard which was also presented at the 1982 Adelaide Festival, along with the now, very famous, Kontaktoff.

Also watching 1980 in 2014, Catherine Sutherland, thought “1980 [was] possibly the maddest, funniest and most touching thing [she] have ever seen on stage (and possibly the longest too, at 3 hours and 35 minutes). It was hard to digest,” said Sutherland, “I wouldn’t call it “dance” exactly, but nor is it “theatre”. It is, quite simply, Pina Bausch.” 32 years earlier the reaction was strikingly similar.

 When Bausch came to Adelaide in 1982:

·      Malcolm Fraser was the Prime Minister;

·      Lindy Chamberland was committed to trial for the alleged murder of her daughter Azaria,

·      the Dalai Lama visited,

·      activists occupy the Franklin Dam,

·      and TAA was still an airline.

The Adelaide Festival programme advertised flights, transfers and accommodation from $285 from Hobart if you chose to fly “the friendly way”.

Bausch and her company performed in March. The company presented 1980 in the Opera Theatre, Bluebeard at the Festival Theatre and Kontakthof at the Thebarton Town Hall on Henley Beach Rd, a 40 minute walk from the Festival Centre.

 Also appearing at the Festival that year were:

·      the comedians Alexei Sayle, French and Saunders,

·      jazz pianist Keith Jarrett,

·      the country singer Slim Dusty along with his family,

·      Australian Dance Theatre (which at the time was under the direction of Johnathan Taylor),

·      Circus Oz,

·      Playbox Theatre did two plays by the American Sam Shepherd,

·      Sydney Theatre Company offered a David Hare.

·      There was a new play by Adelaide writer Rob George about Percy Granger,

·      the State Theatre Company of South Australia premiered Signal Drive by Patrick White which was directed by Neil Armfield.

·      The Italians Nuova Compagnia di Canto Popola and The Yorkshire Grimthorpe Colliery Brass Band performed on Memorial Drive and in the Festival Theatre;

·      the Sydney Symphonia Orchestra

·      the Australian Chamber Orchestra,

·      the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and

·      the Australian Youth Orchestra also performed.

But Bausch was the big ticket, overseas item for that year’s programme. Jim Sharman, the Festival Director in 1982, saw his presentation of Bausch as being in “the tradition of inviting companies” that offered “revelations in form”. He likened his presentation of Bausch to Christopher Hunt’s programming of Peter Brook in 1980 and Anthony Steel’s presentation of Merce Cunningham in 1976. For Sharman, Bausch, by 1982, was “the single most important theatre company in the world”.

But Bausch was also just emerging from her ‘booed’ period.

In interview with Andrew Westle, Meryl Tankard, who joined the Pina Bausch in 1978, recalled that the company was often greeted with boos and walk outs[5]. Tankard remembers one night at a performance of Bluebeard there were so few people in the audience that the company were debating whether they should, or even had to perform. She laughs, relaying the fact that 10 years later the major of Whuppertahl gave Bausch a medal for Bluebeard.

There was a similar reaction when Bausch produced a Macbeth, which she called He takes her by the hand and leads her into the castle. The others follow. As Marion Meyer tells us:

“The title is taken from a Shakespeare stage direction. [M]embers of the local Shakespeare Society came along but nearly brought the production to a halt. […] When the curtain rose, and virtually nothing happened for a tortuously long time – save for the dancers lying on the floor and twitching in their nightmare-plagued sleep – the onlookers grew restless. [Some] left the theatre, and there was booing. Finally, Jo Ann Endicott [one of the dancers] plucked up her courage, stood up and yelled into the auditorium: “If you don’t want to watch this, then go home, and let us get on with our work.”[6]

That work was often deceptively simple and/but uncomfortably confronting. Kontakthof, as Louis Nowra explained, was a “simple idea”: “a group of men and women meet in a community hall where the[y] endeavour to seduce each other”. As he recalled nearly 30 years later: “At times it was excruciating to watch as women were manhandled by groping men”.

 Interestingly, the opposite is true of 1980. In this work women women-handle men. There is the lipsticked kisser I highlighted earlier, and later on in the work a sitting woman cradles a man, she stands him up, undoes his trousers, pulling them down to his ankles, puts him over her knee, and with grinning, eye rolling delight directed at her audience, pulls the elastic up on his underpants, pats his bottom and lets the elastic go…then does it again and again.

 The descriptions of 1980 that I offer here and at the beginning of the paper were not, of course, from memory. I have never seen 1980 - a piece by Pina Bausch. But…Keith Gallasch and Virginia Baxter have, and two weeks ago I sat in their kitchen in Surry Hills, in Sydney, and talked to them about it.

We ranged across what it was like to be in Adelaide in the 1970s, what they were doing before Pina arrived, what it was like to see Bausch in 1982, how they related to the work, the sort of impact it had on them, what was being at the Adelaide Festival like, what they thought/think Festivals add to the working life and performance making of Australian artists (but I wont get to the latter).

Most of you will know Keith Gallasch and Virginia Baxter. But just in case… . They are most famed in recent times as the editors of RealTime – but this magazine was produced by Open City – the performance company that Keith and Virginia formed when they moved from Adelaide to Sydney in the mid 1980s.

Back in the 1970s, Keith and Virginia met after a show in Adelaide – Keith apparently asked Virginia: “whatcha doing Saturday night?” and the rest, as they say, is history … or is it?

Before Bausch came, Keith taught teachers to teach drama and did an MA in linguistics in the UK. He also made youth theatre. Virginia did Rep. They worked together in Troupe. They went to Europe. After Bausch, Keith did more youth theatre and ran the South Australian Theatre Company (tragic years apparently). Virginia made her own work, Keith helped. One of Virginia’s pieces was called Just Walk produced across 1982/1983 (they are a bit vague about exact dates, they’re going to check for me).

Virginia described her inspiration for Just Walk: theatre directors who ask actors to be themselves. “You know” said Virginia “that horror of being told, to [not] do anything, just walk across the space […] how difficult [is that]? What goes on as you consider what that might mean? How you might walk, or how you might be seen as your walking?[7]

What I found fascinating about this, of course, was that Bausch is/was known for her walking – especially in Kontaktoff  and 1980. We all know those parades so well: the promenades, in single file, with knowing looks, smiles, winks, hips leading, high heeled and dress shoed sauntering, in evening dress or suit. Following or being followed by man or woman. Gesturing … actions crafted from the everyday but dislocated by their rhythmic, sequential choreography. Bausch dancers walk and walk and walk – but their ‘just walking’ is so much more than ‘just walking’.

But of course, it turns out that Virginia Baxter and Keith Gallasch were already exploring the ‘justs’ of many things – they were looking to escape acting and find performance. Virginia recalls an earlier catalyst for her. She remembers coming on stage in one work (it might have been with Troupe, she thinks, but she can’t exactly recall – she will find out for me) … anyway, she sees a friend of hers in the audience. She is arrested by the fact that she was pretending to be someone else in front of someone she knows really well. The absurdity and irony of this struck her – and then came Just Walking, and after that What Time is This House. Then the Open City works in Sydney: The Girl with the Stone in Her Shoe, Sense, All that Flows, Sum of the Sudden.

 Other things they were questioning resonate with Bausch’s interests as well. They too had been questioning gender relations through gesture in the 1970s. They read Irving Goffman, and they were also really affected by Marion Wex’s book Let’s Take Back our Space: ‘Female’ and ‘Male’ Body Language as the result of Patriachal Structures, which was published in 1977. A former artist, Wex’s book has been called “one of the great unsung works of 1970s feminist history and cultural analysis”[8]. I got a sense from Virginia and Keith that this book was not just an inspiration for performance making, but a book from which to critique their lives – how did moving, the way you moved, sat, shaped yourself, make you. This book, the times, their work with Troupe, going to the Adelaide Festival almost every year since its inception, travelling in Europe, had laid the ground work for the changes and chances to come. Bausch lobbed into this mix.

 To quote Virginia: “Troupe was doing social realist kind of plays […] hard-hitting social issues, but also things like Peter Hanky’s Casper, which Keith […] directed, […] really, totally radical productions. We were obviously trying to, you know, do something else with theatre, just to expand what theatre could be. And so, when we were both out of Troupe, Keith first then me, we started looking for other ways to, you know, create works

 To also quote Keith: “in Adelaide at the time Nick [Tsoutis] and Peggy [Wallace] had the All Out Ensemble”

 Ausstage calls this company a “collective of poets, writers, visual artists, actors, photographers, sculptors, painters, sound sculptors and performance artists concerned with expression without compromise”. They made works in Adelaide across ’80, ’81, ’82, ‘83 and then moved to Sydney[9].

 Keith continues: “we’d seen a couple of their works, which were very influential.”

 So, although Virginia Baxter and Keith Gallasch recall the appearance of Bausch at the Adelaide Festival as an extraordinary, influential experience; they are also clear that they were ready for what she brought with her. “It was like we were waiting for this” said Keith, “we had a […] pre-history”. “We were prepared.” But “then we were astonished. […] It was great seeing those three works. Kontaktof was “Wow” – and so social. Then Bluebeard was so manic and mad and closed circuit. And then 1980 was kind of joyous and very funny. And looking at some of the videos on You tube” ….  .

 Yes, Keith and Virginia had been there when Bausch came to Australia in 1982, but before I had arrived at their house in June 2019, they had boned up on Bausch. They too had been watching what little is available of 1980 on Youtube. They also watched Kontaktoff and Bluebeard again – these whole works are available on line. Keith and Virginia were there. They were ready, they were wowed. But my interview with them had been enhanced by jogged memories, their recollections re-informed.

 “I was just saying to Keith this morning”, said Virginia, “the repetition element in say Kontaktof was so luscious, you know, I just wanted to watch that over and over and over. Those circles with those small gestures, and the parade, and the little details, and every time you watched it you would see something different, and then, […] the repetition in Bluebeard is so agonising, it’s so like please, please stop – throwing yourself against that wall – heavens…I don’t know how they survived that show”.

 Talking to Virginia and Keith about their past in their present did not reveal revelation and revolution, but practice and preparedness. They acknowledged an abiding respect for and recognition of dancers, a love of durational practices even though they never considered themselves performance artists, a brave sensuality, the ordinary made extraordinary, a commitment to the work of the work. Bausch planted seeds in a bed that had already been turned over and composted. They were receptive. They were prepared.

 As I collect my things to go, something bubbles up for Virginia: “In 1980” she says, “I seem to remember a sprinkler”. Yes Virginia, there was a sprinkler.

[1] (Wray, Lucy, 2014, “1980 – A Piece by Pina Bausch”, Eveunt, Feb 15th

[2] Sutherland, Catherine, 2014, “Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch”, Backtrack, Feb 9th, )

[3] Sulca, Roslyn, 2012 “The Madness that is part of everyday life”, New York Times, May 7th.

[4] Wray, Lucy, 2014, “1980 – A Piece by Pina Bausch”, Eveunt, Feb 15th


[6] Meyer, Marion. Pina Bausch - The Biography, Oberon Books Ltd, 2017, p.51

[7] Interview with author, June 2019