Keeping the flame burning

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Australian Josephine-Ann Endicott is an original member of Pina Bausch's Tanztheater Wuppertal. She is now responsible for restaging the choreographer's works. She spoke to Belle Beasley in the lead up to 'The Rite of Spring' at the Adelaide Festival.

The new staging of 'The Rite of Spring' as performed by African dancers from the École des Sables in Senegal. Photo: Maarten van den Abeele.
The new staging of 'The Rite of Spring' as performed by African dancers from the École des Sables in Senegal. Photo: Maarten van den Abeele.

Restaging a Pina Bausch work is no simple process. On top of the months of rehearsal, countless hours of organisation and administration must take place behind-the-scenes to bring her choreography to life on stage. But throw in a transnational, multi-institution collaboration, as well as a global pandemic, and the task becomes near impossible. Yet, despite everything, Pina Bausch’s irreverent das Frühlingsopfer (The Rite of Spring, 1975), will be making its way to Australia in March for the Adelaide Festival, with one of Pina’s original dancers at the helm.

Australian Josephine-Ann Endicott, known to Pina as “Jo”, is an original member of Bausch’s celebrated Tanztheater Wuppertal, renamed from the Wuppertal Ballet when Bausch was made director in 1973. As one of the only original dancers still teaching, Endicott is “drowning in work”, responsible for restaging and rehearsing Pina’s oldest pieces in companies around the world. Jo had only just left the Australian Ballet when she was spied taking class in London by Bausch, and as she remembers, it was love at first sight.

“I went to London thinking I never want to be a dancer again. I just wanted to get away from Australia and all this world of ‘calorie-counting, pretty, fairies, and not real.’ But I took class at a studio in London, and one of those days Pina Bausch was there . . . This woman, when you looked into her eyes, she had this aura. When she asked me ‘are you looking for a job,’ in this beautiful, simple English, with her no-make-up face and simple hairstyle, something about her was so charismatic, so I said yes. I was so overwhelmed by the woman.

Jo-Ann Endicott. Photo: Maarten van den Abeele.
Jo-Ann Endicott. Photo: Maarten van den Abeele.

“When I first left Australia, I think I wrote letters and cried all the time. In Pina’s work there’s so much about loneliness, and this lonely something connected me to her. I felt at home with her in her work.”

Now almost 72, Jo is based in Wuppertal, and is showing no signs of slowing down. “Don’t ask me how I do it, I just do it. It keeps me maybe alive. I feel the dancers need me.”

But after everything that has happened over the last two years, this upcoming tour to Adelaide holds a special place in her heart. The project is a collaboration between the Pina Bausch Foundation, the Sadlers Wells in London, and L’Ecole des Sables in Senegal. At the behest of Pina’s son Salomon Bausch, and Senegalese “mother of African dance” Germaine Acogny, Pina’s The Rite of Spring will be performed by African dancers from 14 countries, a never-before-seen collaboration that brings Pina’s work to audiences around the world, as well as to dancers from diverse nationalities across the continent.

“I was asked in 2018 to go [to L’Ecole des Sables] just for a workshop with Pina’s son Salomon Bausch. I loved the idea right from the beginning. I was fascinated from these bodies and their want to move, and I said ‘let’s do it’. It was madness, but it was great. You got addicted to this process. Their energy is so real and so passionate that you don’t mind working for hours and hours.”

Jo returned to Senegal in early 2019 to begin the rehearsal process. “We worked about six weeks. We had 10 days to go, and then came the news [of the pandemic]; all theatres closed. There was a film team there, so at least we could do two [filmed] run-throughs; one in the studio, and one on the sand. We weren’t really ready to do it on the sand, but better to have that than nothing.”

Losing sight of the project’s future just as all their hard work was about to be realised is a feeling that Jo will not soon forget. “I felt like I’d been robbed of a project which was my special heart project.” Finally, after 18 months of waiting and renegotiations, the group premiered Rite in Madrid, touring soon after to Copenhagen, Vienna, and Luxembourg and Australia next. “I was so overwhelmed. They were so brilliant. I was so happy that we could do it for them and for the piece. One of the most exciting, truthful, real things I’ve seen on stage for years... I’m sure she [Pina] is up there thanking me for this process.”

Jo acknowledges the difficulty of the restaging process, especially when collaborating between organisations in different locations. “It’s very costly this kind of thing, this touring, people coming from everywhere... We understand the problems
of the budget and the organising. But if we can’t get it done well, it’s disappointing. We could have given up, but we didn’t. We all wanted to do it.”

And when administrative challenges combine with the increasing rarity of original Tanztheater dancers available to guide rehearsal, Jo admits that the sustainability of the restaging process is tenuous. “It’s more and more difficult to keep the pieces how they should be . . . There’s a lot of different opinions on oldeworks: [do they] still function, or is it becoming a museum piece?

"I can’t bear to see pieces that I know not done well. They have to be able to say the same thing. Like cooking a meal at home,” she explains. “If it’s not cooked well, then I don’t want to eat it either.”

The continuation of Pina’s legacy is no clear cut issue. Often when restaging a work, there are time constraints for company rehearsals, and Jo explains that there is a risk that dancers may not be open to speaking Pina’s language. “You have an advantage when you are working in [Tanztheater] Wuppertal. And when you go to a different company, it’s always a risk: ‘are they going to get there, are they going to open up?’ I can’t just say, ‘cry here, sniffle there’. It’s got to come real from each person who does it.”

“But each time when you go to a different company, then after you’ve finally finished and you’ve got them as far as you could get them – then that’s like their Sacre. That’s Paris Opera [Ballet] Sacre, that’s the English National [Ballet Company] Sacre. It becomes theirs.”

Endicott in her performing days with Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal.
Endicott in her performing days with Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal.

The much-anticipated tour to Australia for the Adelaide Festival presents an exciting opportunity for the dancers and the audiences alike. The restaging of  one of Pina’s most influential works is an event that may become rarer and rarer as time goes on. Those responsible for keeping Bausch’s legacy alive take the work seriously, and refuse to settle for any less than Pina’s vision. “It’s about meaning. The work means something to me...And that meaning will connect to the audience, and take flame and make a fire among them. It can bring back a fire to the world.”

'The Rite of Spring', performed by 38 dancers from 14 African nations, will be held from March 4 to 6 as part of the Adelaide Festival. For more info, go here.

This article first appeared in the Jan/Feb/March 2022 issue of 'Dance Australia'. Buy from your favourite dance retail outlet or go here and never miss an issue!




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