This site has limited support for your browser. We recommend switching to Edge, Chrome, Safari, or Firefox.

What Else is There to Say?

The question of new work has loomed large over Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch since its eminent founder passed away in 2009. Determined to uphold the late Pina Bausch’s legacy, her troupe has spent the past decade restaging her greatest hits in an effort to pass them on to a new generation of dancers and audiences. This year marks a new course for the company, as it expands its repertoire to include material from outside artists for the first time. Norwegian playwright and choreographer Alan Lucien Øyen is one of the chosen few: his “Bon Voyage, Bob . . .” joins Dimitris Papaioannou‘s “Since She” as one of two inaugural new commissions.


Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in “Bon Voyage, Bob . . .” by Alan Lucien Øyen


Sadler's Wells, London, UK, February 22, 2019


Sara Veale

Andrey Berexin, Julie Shanahan and Tsai Chin Yu in “Bon Voyage, Bob . . .” for Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch. Photograph by Mats Bäcker

subscribe to the latest in dance

“Uncommonly intelligent, substantial coverage.”

Your weekly source for world-class dance reviews, interviews, articles, and more.

Already a paid subscriber? Login

Tanztheater Wuppertal is a sizable, diverse ensemble, taking in a range of nationalities, ages and body types. Øyen was allocated half of its 32 performers for “Bob,” which partly explains why it feels thinner than sweeping spectacles like “Viktor” and “Masurca Fogo,” both shown in London in recent years. Another contributing factor is the fragmented staging: Øyen rarely assembles his cast as a whole, favouring a rotation of small groups instead. The upside is a closer look at the individuals powering the show, but it’s a shame to miss out on their collective might—these veteran performers are rarely more alive than they’re cavorting en masse.

“Bob” ruminates on death and the uncannily large presence a person’s absence can have. Across a carousel of shabby kitchens, pine-hewn lodges and poky funeral homes—revealed through a natty rotating set—portraits of loss emerge. Disembodied voices crackle from faraway transmitters; widows question their spouse-less futures. The show’s emotions dance on the margins of grief: laughing turns to sobbing, tussling to violence, excitement to anxiety.

Movement, drama and music feature across the production, though the blend is noticeably light on dance. Instead, text-based sketches take the lead, with narratives wending convoluted arcs that often collapse in on themselves. Blossoms of black humour spring up: a guileless funeral director who offers his customers urns for ashtrays; a phone conversation with ‘Love,’ who greets her caller’s enthusiasm with a promise to ruin his life. These larks give amusing shape to the puzzling heartbreak of bereavement, but they’re outnumbered by tedious, nonsensical gags that let down the entire enterprise. Virtuosos like Julie Shanahan deserve better than a derivative Twin Peaks spoof or a quiz show parody with painfully contrived questions like “Is a still life painting still alive?”

Douglas Letheren and Rainer Behr in “Bon Voyage, Bob . . .” for Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch. Photograph by Mats Bäcker

The dance sprinkled in usually appears in solo form and takes in some eye-grabbing routines: Emma Barrowman serving up deep, plunking pliés, Jonathan Fredrickson roiling in a fit of wrenched lines. There’s no unifying quality to the choreography, though; it’s a grab bag of scooting, slashing and contracting, with body-pumping thrusts carried out alongside placid rebounds. The sketches don’t weave in these moves so much as pause to accommodate them, giving the impression of a drip-feed of disparate scenes, some of which happen to be dance-focused.

“Bob” offers certain nods to Bausch’s celebrated brand of dance theatre. The costuming hints at her penchant for mid-century chic, with dresses, heels and cigarettes galore, while gently bemusing skits—including a game of hangman with the audience—offer a glimpse of the trademark charisma she inspired in her performers. The faculty of the old hands feels especially present: Nazareth Panadero’s dizzying physical comedy, Shanahan’s delectably serene delivery.

At the same time, Øyen seems to consciously eschew Bausch’s wide-eyed wit, turning his focus to confession and sentimentality. Unfortunately, these themes are undone by unsubtle, overwrought choices in dialogue, music and staging. The decision to make the show more than three hours long is especially trying. By the interval mid-way, you wonder what else there is to say.

Sara Veale

Sara Veale is a London-based writer and editor. She's written about dance for the Observer, the Spectator, DanceTabs, Auditorium Magazine, Exeunt and more. Her first book, Untamed: The Radical Women of Modern Dance, will be published in 2024.



A Little More Action
REVIEWS | Karen Hildebrand

A Little More Action

Smuin Contemporary Ballet is a different company than when it last came to New York in 2012, five years after the sudden death of its popular founder. Michael Smuin was known for his highly accessible works full of musical theater splash. While his San Francisco based company continues to perform his repertory, it has commissioned a broad range of new work under succeeding director, Celia Fushille.

Continue Reading
Summer Fun
REVIEWS | Merilyn Jackson

Summer Fun

In its Summer Series 2024, the Philadelphia contemporary ballet company offers three world premieres by choreographers Amy Hall Garner, Loughlan Prior and Stina Quagebeur. The extended run, July 10-21 at the Wilma Theater, is just about the only dance to be seen during summer’s dog days. And what a cool and breezy show it is. Just the boost we needed.

Continue Reading
India Week
REVIEWS | Karen Greenspan

India Week

On a scorcher of a day in July, New York’s Lincoln Center launched India Week, a cultural extravaganza celebrating the variety and vibrancy of Indian culture. 

Good Subscription Agency