I think that there is no other person who has been mentioned so often as muse and inspiration by the dance and theater people I know as the late Pina Bausch. That she was one of the signal theatrical artists of our time is beyond dispute, and so is the fact that it took me too long to acquaint myself with her work, in all of its wit, lushness, and originality. Thus it was still with a sense of discovery that I allowed her final work to wash across me on Friday night during its U.S. premiere run.

Tantztheater Wuppertal’s “… COMO EL MUSGUITO EN LA PIEDRA, AY SI, SI, SI …” – which means “like moss on a stone” in Spanish – spread across a flinty white stage that would literally crack into pieces, like tectonic plates pulling apart, only to close up again at some future point, at a near imperceptible moment. Whether or not this jigsaw of a stage was an intentional allusion to the earthquake faults of the nation of Chile, whose traditions are said to have inspired the piece, as well as to that nation’s resilience, it is an association impossible to shake once it arises.

The work does, in any case, grow like moss on shifting ground, which makes the solidity and transitional seamlessness of Bausch’s stream of images and conceits all the more remarkable. Dance theater of this sort is, as a rule, plotless, but it has another sort of coherence in time, one of colors splashed on the stage, vanishing and reappearing; of glib little vignettes, some of them gender-bending, that leaven the lushness of the whole with touches of humor; of songs and music, many from Chile and with Spanish lyrics, that seem to emerge from the movement, rather than the other way around; the interplay of women and men in relationships both light and heavy, either of which a Bausch dancer traverses with a ravishing ease that if not checked would flow like water, or lava, off the edges of the stage.

None of that really describes what it is to see a piece by Pina Bausch at her choreographic best, or even at her worst, if there was ever such a moment. It is akin to an activation of the air that surrounds us.

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