Bon Voyage, Bob
Sadler’s Wells Theatre
Reviewed – 22nd February 2019
“the wonderful dancers who make up this work, are given so little scope for expression”
The London premiere of Bon Voyage, Bob last night at Sadlers Wells came with a great deal of expectation. Since her sudden death in 2009, Pina Bausch’s extraordinary company, Tanztheater Wuppertal, has continued solely by dint of performing revivals of the enormous body of works Bausch created with it over a period of thirty six years. Until 2015 that is, when the company invited two choreographers in, in order to create new work. Alan Lucien Øyen’s response was Bon Voyage, Bob, which had its world premiere in Wuppertal last year.
Bon Voyage, Bob is best described as an extended meditation on death. It takes place in a dreamscape (stunningly realised by the triple talents of Alex Eales (set); Martin Flack (lighting) and Gunnar Innvaer (sound)) in which the past merges with the present, and vivid fantasies are as concrete as naturalistic memories. Linear narrative is replaced by recurring visual and textual motifs, and a horse dancing on two legs at a formal dinner is as real to the audience as a maternal deathbed scene. The set is almost permanently in revolve, with company members continually entering and exiting through doors; the effect is that of a surrealist painting brought to life. The piece is full of exquisitely realised stage pictures, and the slickness of the choreography is undeniable, particularly when the company work collectively, moving and placing objects to create a mise en scene, but, at three hours, it feels empty and self-indulgent, and considerably less than the sum of its parts.
Bausch’s influence is undeniable, but Øyen’s choreography here feels devoid of heart, so that we are left merely with the trappings of her art, with no living, breathing body underneath. This is almost literally the case, in that the wonderful dancers who make up this work, are given so little scope for expression. Bausch understood the eloquence of the human body in a way that few choreographers ever have, and these dancers are imbued with her philosophy. The points at which they are allowed to move are sublime, and showcase unimaginable skill and poetry, but they are few and far between. It feels counter to the work to single out these dancers by name, as they live and breathe as a collective, but there were some extraordinary moments created by one or two peformers which will linger in the memory, and the final scene, in which the dancers move together and slowly leave the stage in falling snow, had the breath of magic in it. It was unfortunate that it also contained a large dose of relief. The audience struggled with this piece last night, and left in noticeable numbers at the interval and during the second half. The piece was so relentlessly portentous that it was frequently boring, and often unintentionally comic, with moments of intended pathos quickly becoming farcical. Øyen did not feel in control of his material.
Bausch changed the landscape of dance theatre, and it is an extraordinarily difficult job for a new choreographer to continue her legacy, whilst at the same time breathing fresh life into the company and bringing something of themselves to the stage. Øyen, unfortunately, was not up to the task. The work felt lifeless and derivative, and the audience remained untouched.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography by Mats Bäcker
Bon Voyage, Bob
Sadler’s Wells Theatre until 25th February
Previously reviewed at this venue: