Pina Bausch - a sometimes bleak, but always powerful vision; Cafe Muller; The Rite of Spring; Bluebeard; 1980. Performed by the Pina Bausch Wuppertaler Tanztheater. Production and choreography by Pina Bausch.
Pina Bausch's recent visit to the United States was preceded by gusts of excitement normally reserved for old masters, not young mavericks. Tickets to her troupe's opening night at the Olympic Arts Festival were reportedly the most coveted items in Los Angeles, and her next stop - at the Brooklyn Academy of Music - was loudly heralded as the Big Event of the spring season.
Why the fuss? Because this is no ordinary maverick pitching some new slant on ''performance art'' or ''multimedia'' theater. Bausch is bold and unpredictable by any standard, and while her vision is overbearingly bleak at times, its power and originality justify at least some of the reputation she has built with her versatile West German company.
She and her Dance Theater of Wuppertal are now appearing through July 1 at the Toronto International Festival.
At both her American engagements, including the BAM run that I attended, Bausch eased audiences into her brave new aesthetic by leading off with a pair of works not quite as stark or outlandish as what was to come. The setting of ''Cafe Muller'' is a dingy room full of chairs and tables. Much of the dancing is lonely and introspective, but there are splendid outbursts from a man who dashes about the stage knocking and yanking furniture from the soloists' paths. Purcell music provides an ethereal counterpoint to the otherwise dark mood.
After a long intermission, the troupe then danced Bausch's rendition of ''The Rite of Spring'' on a stage covered with moist peat. Just as a man and woman slam each other into walls during ''Cafe Muller,'' the males and females of the ''Rite'' face off almost like members of armed camps.
Things get even gloomier in the full-length ''Bluebeard,'' which is subtitled ''Listening to a Tape Recording of Bela Bartok's Opera, 'Bluebeard's Castle.' '' The main character has an onstage tape recorder playing Bartok's mystical piece, but it's constantly interrupted as Bluebeard shuts off, rewinds, and otherwise confounds the music's flow. He also charges away from the controls to have grim, ambiguous encounters with sundry men and women, the latter perhaps representing Bluebeard's multiple wives. The stage is covered with autumn leaves. In all, rather dank for my taste, and I could have done without the look of crazed despair that hardly ever leaves the principal dancer's face.
The troupe wound up their stay with ''1980,'' running almost four hours but seeming far shorter. This time the stage is covered with earth and planted with green grass. The dancers rarely dance on this pleasant surface. Instead they talk, sing, eat, play childish games, and otherwise call into question what a stage is for. Guests include a magician and a middle-aged man working out on parallel bars. There is some robing and disrobing, but generally the Bausch crew is coy about sex. Some moments are poignant, some hilarious, some in between. Other moments just are.