The recent passing of celebrity entertainers, most notably Michael Jackson, has produced an outpour of deeply seated grief, most of which is coming from the legions of fans who long ago gave up on their former idol. Swept away by gossip and bizarrely mundane fodder, Michael Jackson the artist peaked long ago—unable to recuperate from the fall of his own fame—and there is a palpable sadness in the fact that the former King of Pop was never able to redeem himself, socially nor artistically. To mourn a celebrity is to mourn their life and death, but to mourn an artist is to mourn their art, which in Jackson's case occurred close to three decades ago.
The recent passing of Pina Bausch, however, comes as utter shock and grief over the sudden passing of a cultural icon that had yet to fade creatively. Just two years ago, Bausch received the Kyoto Prize, the first woman to receive one of the world's top accolades in the category of art and philosophy.
At the exact same time, her company, Tanztheatre Wuppertal, performed Nefés at the National Arts Center as the sole and rare Canadian stop. Like many others from various backgrounds and disciplines from all over the country, I had flown to Ottawa for the sole purpose of seeing a Pina Bausch piece live—the epic propensity of her art has a drawing power that is not connected to the woman herself. As a later piece, Nefés was arguably not one of the richest in Bausch's immense oeuvre, but her trademarks of refusing to be limited by logistics or genres was fully felt over three hours of being completely immersed and enraptured.
Bausch, who only discovered she had cancer five days prior to her death, was an artistic visionary completely unto her own. Starting from the age of 14, she began training with Expressionist dancer Kurt Jooss before coming under the influence of Anthony Tudor at Julliard. Bausch did not simply move the body, represent it, set it into motion; rather, Bausch rendered the body by rendering movement on and from the body. Setting dynamic states of play, Bausch's visions wavered between the bittersweet and the apocalyptic, the grandeur and the chaotic, catering to no one's expectations by creating her own standards of aesthetics. As one of the pioneering forces in bridging ballet and contemporary—and dance and theatre—it was Bausch's will and vision that led her to be one of the most respected artists in the world.
Never one for the limelight, Bausch's death, as in life, was overshadowed by more digestible news. It's not fair to compare Bausch with Jackson, as the issue is not talent or integrity on their part, but rather completely about our own values of culture and entertainment. Both have been influential to dancers of a certain generation, and both have been revolutionary in their field, but while collective grief over Jackson as a public persona is manifesting in obsessive updates on his estate and paternity claims, the collective and far more subdued grief over the notoriously private Bausch lies not in the salacious and surface details of her life, but in accepting the intangible loss that the world will never again be graced by one of Bausch's visions—and it is the loss of her art, and not who we believe the artist to be, that needs our mourning.
Image still from Nefes, dancer uncredited; photo credit: unknown
*First published in Vue Weekly, July 9 - 15, 2009
- A.F. Edmonton