Imbued with an upbeat spirit, Masurca Fogo (Fiery Mazurka) takes its inspiration from Portugal, Brazil and Cape Verde – it’s a holiday from the bitterness typically associated with Bausch’s oeuvre to a realm of delightful warmth and easy sensuality. Thanks to a magnificent rocky backdrop, down which the dancers scamper or teeter, we’re instantly transported to an often comical and sunnily lit beach scene. This being the allusive Tanztheater universe, the surreality levels are high: man in a mackintosh descends, matter of factly tossing fish to a realistic rubber walrus that makes its way rather thoughtfully across the space. Elsewhere, apropos of nothing, a man slips into camply authoritarian choreographer mode, instructing three reluctant women in a mermaid dance.
There’s a terrific sense of play about the whole thing, much of it water-based. The dancers squirt it at one another or coyly splash it into armpits and assorted areas and, most memorably, create a makeshift water slide out of tautly held plastic sheet, along which they skid and romp in bikinis or Speedos. While all this is going on, a dancer (Regina Advento) is pushed onstage in a frothy bathtub, out of which she occasionally pulls a piece of crockery that’s carefully dried with a tea towel by her companion (Andrey Berezin). All of this funny, unexpected detail somehow combines to be peculiarly moving – the banal domestic details of everyday life and social ritual rendered strangely beautiful.
This being Bausch, there are fraught skirmishes between the sexes during which the tropical cheer turns sour. The tall, elegant Julie Shanahan (like Berezin, a veteran Bausch dancer) is forced to retrieve citrus fruit with her mouth from a basin of water while a man pins her arms behind her back. Later on, clad revealingly in an arrangement of red balloons, she offers cigarettes to the men and recalls a story about her schoolteacher’s lipstick, only to be silenced and left in a humiliated heap by the inevitable bursting that ensues.
But the darkness and discomfort is dispelled as quickly as it arises: a watermelon smashes on the floor and the fruit is fed to a real chicken (a consummate avian actor, though she remains anonymous) as the audience gasp in delight. In between these vignettes, there are sections of pure dance – densely detailed solos and a shuffling, hip-wiggling Brazilian waltz performed in a snaking line by the whole company, who are gloriously varied in age, height and shape. The denouement, in which the dancers curl up in sleepy pairs beneath a video projection of blooming flowers, might drag a little but ultimately it doesn’t detract from the piece’s curious insights and overwhelming loveliness.
Masurca Fogo is on at Sadler’s Wells until 12th February 2017. Click here for more details.