Historiographical perspective on Pina Bausch

By: Sara-Maria Pirhonen
Position: BA Dance Pedagogy, DOCH, Stockholm University of the Arts, Sweden

In the course about the history of dance as a subject and its’ didactical application I chose to approach the historiographical perspective on one of the most central names in the field of dance theatre: Pina Bausch. The intention was to study how a specific person, technique or other dance related topic has been written about in relation to history. My question is recording to the texts I have picked up from The Pina Bausch Sourcebook – The Making of Tanztheater, how her art has been described in 1984-1985 and can the texts ever resonate from a neutral perspective. If it is not so what has influenced that specific time?

The full article  (in Swedish) can be downloaded here


In the course of the dance subject’s history and its didactic application, we were assigned the task of analyzing texts from historiographic perspectives. The purpose was to select texts and see how they were written about specific human, technical or equivalent in relation to the history of the term dance. My choice was to go deeper into choreographer and dancer Pina Bausch and her art that is a prominent inspiration for me as a dancer, artist and future teacher.
At the beginning I tell about the very concept of historiography, what it means and how can it be used in scientific analyzes from different sources. Both texts I use are from the book The Pina Bausch Sourcebook – The Making of Tanztheater, edited by Royd Climenhaga 2013. The first text I discuss about “I pick my dancers as people” Pina Bausch discusses her work with the Wuppertal Dance Theater 1985) is written by Glenn Loney. The first is about Ms. Bausch’s career from 1940 when she was born in Solingen, West Germany to the situation in 1985 and her collaboration with the Wuppertal Dance Theater. The other text I have chosen is New York City (1984), the author is Amanda Smith, and it is about Pina Bausch’s specific scene theorem through some of her most famous works.
My question in comparison with texts is to highlight how Pina Bausch and her art are described in 1984-1985 and texts about the artist can be written from a neutral perspective.

Historiography as a concept

“All evidence has been given a form,” quotes Lena Hammergren, science historian David E. Nye, his idea of ​​source material (Hammergren, 2009, pp. 67-68). It is also about the classification of primary and secondary materials. How do you know what information and text is real, a “truth”? Is there such material? What material is something you can trust and also base your own opinion on and write material from it?
Historiography is a term that means scientific analysis of methods used in historical research and history dissemination. Most often, it’s about writers, sources,

interpretation, style or reading. Whenever history has been written, it is linked to a certain period of time and it is written from a point of view, towards the world we live in. The source material for texts has already come from somewhere and it is important how wide the image is from subjects. Is the text local or international play a major role. The world’s situation at that time, there have been some dominant paradigms ongoing in different societies.
It has been observed that historians use the same sources in the canon. Then material is formed about the same phenomenon but from a different point of view. The canon can also contribute to neglecting some sources. Although it is noticed, it still does not succeed in influencing historical writing. Sources are part of discourses, it is considered as linguistic and thought-based constructions formed in social, political and cultural contexts.
Lena Hammergren (2009) writes about a deconstructionist perspective which means questioning the possibility of reproducing truth in a uniform or one-dimensional way. Epistemological question can be: What constitutes true knowledge, the aesthetic analysis of the story in historical texts?
Historiography is constantly in motion. We also can not write history of the time we live right now and it makes the concepts even more interesting. History that was written and researched today has its own stamp of the world’s situation and one can only examine this aspect first when we are already in history. “All fixed points or supposed” truths “in a specific story writing may be good to be re-examined, even though it does not necessarily lead to interpretations,” (Hammergren, 2009) commented on the author to pay close attention and to investigate more accurately about starting points , methods or use of source material. Interpretation of history is never objective.

“I pick my dancers as people” (1985)

Glenn Meredith Loney (1985), professor of theater, writers and photographers from California has long history in art. He has participated in a wide range of different art forms and has also worked in management tasks. It appears in an article written directly from the printer’s own opinion, but at the same time it is clear that he really knows what he is talking about.

Loney describes Bausch as “enfant terrible of German dance” and “the Wicked Fairy of German Ballet”. Nevertheless, he has chosen to tell Bausch’s story in good positive light. A large part of the text is actually an interview of Bausch’s work in the Wuppertal Dance Theater. Loney gives a strong picture of her but it is noticed that questions are formatted to be provocative too. What feels interesting in the text is that you can not really know Loney has written exactly how Bausch has responded or may there be changes from the author to give a certain picture of Bausch.

New York City (1984)

The background of dance of American teacher, Danish critic and writer Amanda Smith (1944-2008) has been a pain to her. She has been active and interested in the art form, and it can also be seen in the text. It is written with emotion and then the text also has a personal tone.
Smith’s narrative of Pina Bausch’s most famous work: The Rite the Spring, Bluebeard, Café Müller and 1980. The text Smith describes colorful choreographies but also gives a strong opinion of Bausch’s moving material in The Rite the Spring: “Yet the source of its movement is surprisingly old-fashioned: Limón technique, garnered from Bausch’s Juilliard days “, (Smiths, 1984).
Smith also comments that Bausch trusts his own vision even if something else happens in dance fields at this time. In an article in which she describes how Bausch has been seen in 1984, especially in the United States, Bausch has been more unknown first and she has brought something completely new to the dance field.

When texts meet

Both texts by Pina Bausch stand behind themes, namely that Bausch is certainly a unique artistic soul that has a special vision of dance and theater. But also that the audience and other artists either loved or hated her works. Bausch thus shares opinions and it is also evident in texts.
The time when texts have come out also clearly affect the picture you give about Bausch. Pina is already well known in 1984-1985 and Tanzteater Wuppertal has also received attention. Both sources are primary sources and texts could look different to the present. Both articles are lit by not knowing where this road should lead. “Still some Bausch fans are afraid something might happen, that she might lose ground under feet,” (Loney, 1985).


After I have examined texts and interpreted them from different sources, it is even clearer to me how much the influence is behind the author. Earlier, I have thought that at least official writing in history is something decent, but now I have learned to think even more critically about the material I encounter.
I observed texts for example by considering what the author has raised from the artist and what has been left behind. What time are texts written in, are they primary or secondary materials and how does it affect? Who is the author, from what background is coming and can it have something to do with the expressions?
Glenn Loney has written a lot of Bausch’s background while Amanda Smith concentrates on Bausch’s work. It gives two different pictures of the choreographer. Loney’s text is more personal and Smith’s article talks about how Bausch expresses himself on stage. But both texts clearly argue that Bausch does its own thing that blends the image of strong and independent artist. Because both texts have been written on time when Bausch’s work has been relevant, one only knows how people responded in the early 1980s. As part of history both

The author has been honest that Bausch’s dance theater shared opinions. “Whether you loved it or detested it, it provoked you to think.” (Smiths, 1984).
Both texts are important for information on how Bausch was received. When comparing them, you see many similarities that come back. Loney’s text also includes Bausch’s own answers and it gives more from the choreographer to the reader. One can trust that factor in texts is probably correct, but because they are no history texts, there is also a strong personal voice in both from the author.
Pina Bausch has been a groundbreaking person and it has been written a lot of her. Nevertheless, it feels that people can only write about their own perspective and I wonder if anyone could never really enter Bausch’s personal world. “On her deathbed, Gertrude Stein is reported to have asked,” What is the answer? “And then, sinking back into the pillows,” What is the question? “(Smiths, 1984).


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