Deep sea diving into the human condition, seventeen Tanztheater Wuppertal dancers, under the guidance of internationally acclaimed modern choreographer Pina Bausch, perform in Ten Chi, a series of choreographic travelogues revealing the nuanced sights, culture, and landscape of modern-day Japan. Created in 2004 by Bausch, Ten Chi is as mesmerizing as it is overwhelming in this collaboration of theater acting, dance, and sound, showcasing Bausch's signature innovation: "'dance theater' [which fuses] elements of American musical theater, vaudeville and political cabaret." Nothing is left to the imagination, where life-sized pieces of a giant whale's tail appear to sprout from beneath the stage. Sakura (cherry blossoms) petals fall in snowflake-like velocity and transform the stage's black backdrop into a stunning frenzy of movement in the latter part of the nearly three-hour long performance.
The gentle strum of a guitar can be heard in the opening act, as the first dancer moves with dramatic intensity and energy. What was quite unique about the fusion of sound and dance was that the two did not necessarily blend harmoniously. The slow and sometimes melancholy music created a cacophony with the whirl of human motion -- hands and legs never still. Another dichotomy is even more pronounced when Bausch plays around with gender roles and appearances. In particular, one of the male dancers dances onstage in a woman's dress while a female performer with a distinctly masculine tone, walks freely on and off the stage ranting about her relationship with men.
You can never predict the beginning or end, with a performance that reveals no plot nor depth of character identity. However, it is this spontaneous nature of Bausch that makes it even more pleasurable for the audience. Based on travels to Japan, Ten Chi (which translates to "heaven and earth") explores a random list of dialogues, images, and contemporary Japanese culture that comments on how Bausch experienced and remembers the "Land of the Rising Sun." In one instance, a dancer appears onstage and simply enunciates an assortment of words such as "kimono," "chopsticks," and "Mount Fuji." The pronunciation and tone is key to this piece. Each word is filled with an irritable agony, as tangles of Japanese alphabetic consonants are blurted before the word is repeated for a second time. It's not just "kinomo," but "kakekikoku..kimono".
One wearisome aspect of these caricatures, however, was the fact that although it was made comical on purpose, the exaggerated aspects of Japanese culture, such as spiked hair or constant bowing, seemed to almost trivialize the culture. Emphasis on certain peculiarities such as the typical "Japanese tour guide" who can't manage to convince her group of imaginary tourists (the audience members whom she looks with faith) to leave -- the high-pitched words from a non-Asian dancer says, "I'm sorry, we have to go" with endless repetition -- felt like the real tour guides in Japan are something to be made fun of. Repetition itself is also a distinctly Bausch signature. Whether it is in the choice of music, monologue, or dance movement, you see the performers take you "deeper" into the mind of Bausch's own conscience and memory of Japan.
Lack of uniformity in the flow of the performance is made up for by the definitive dress and costumes of each dancer. All the female performers are delineated by a bright silk dress and pointed shiny heels. Specific to the dance sequences, each female utilizes the energy of her hair, flipping it in rhythmic intensity. Male dancers are dressed only in suits and the occasional kimono. The hair that is flowing also relates to the idea that modern dance performance naturally bends and folds into the contours of ambiguity in its free-spirited, unpredictable nature.
Swimming in a sea of sakura petals which showers the stage, Pina Bausch's Ten Chi is arguably one of the most simplistically beautiful sets of its kind. Her minimalist approach to using certain props to its full potential reveals how interpretation is the underlying key to understanding her complex pieces. Indeed, it is also the rare blend of theater and modern dancing that has popularized her work. At times the stage is too busy to focus or give full attention to, but Ten Chi is quick to win the audience back by keeping a flowing energy that stems from a desire to explore the unexplored.