There is only one scene in Nur Du, Pina Bausch’s 1996 piece made on location in Los Angeles, where you don’t feel a sense of dislocation. Julie Shanahan, with a backpack and in walking shoes, wanders through Peter Pabst’s set of giant redwood trunks as if out hiking. The easy coherence of this moment underscores how bizarrely fractured the rest is, the Californian glade forming a naturalist backdrop to the outré antics of Bausch’s multinational performers in her favoured attire: formal gowns and high heels for the women, suits for the men.
Shanahan opens the piece, a platinum blonde starlet in a satin dress, attended by men who, here as elsewhere in the work, form seats and sofas and stairways for the women to recline in or walk over. She raises her dress and giggles that we’re all naked underneath. In fact, there’s a lot of skirt-lifting going on, whether to strip off multiple knicker layers, to show off swishy fabric or to up the surrealist stakes, as when a row of women hold up their hems while a man lovingly smoothes their hair. The men do a lot of shirt-stripping, too, and there is much costume-play throughout: a woman with beakers for a bra accompanied by a man wearing a wire cage containing live mice as a chest piece; people drawing nipples and navels on their own clothes; headwear filled with water.
The overlapping scenes come thick and fast, the talking and acting sections often very funny while the dance sections – troubled solos, sloth-like crawls, pod-like stillnesses – are more reflective. Though it was made in the US, the work’s local references (cheerleaders, fast food, Hollywood) are loose and fleeting, with Portuguese and Latin American music cropping up as much as doo-wop, blues and jazz. Instead, Nur Du plumbs the more general conditions of our existence: absurdity, vanity, desire, folly.