Auf dem Gebirge hat man ein Geschrei gehört at Sadler’s Wells
Pina Bausch’s Auf dem Gebirge hat man ein Geschrei gehört explores the cruelty of human relationships through highly dramatised and recognisably everyday movement, set to music from scratchy Billie Holiday to Felix Mendelssohn. The sparse and meticulous piece is over 30 years old and yet, this UK premiere at Sadler’s Wells feels like an open wound.
The title means “on the mountain a cry was heard”. While there is no mountain in sight (just a stage covered in thick soil and an amazing fog), there is plenty of crying. Women howl in pain, fear and frustration as they are literally thrown from man to man, admired and attacked. The title might reference Jeremiah 3:21: “A cry is heard on the barren heights, the weeping and pleading of the people of Israel, because they have perverted their ways”. These words follow a misogynistic passage about women’s infidelity and prostitution, but Bausch’s piece inverts Biblical victim-blaming, picking apart womankind until she is a collection of disparate moments – including a playful girl jumping around pine trees and a shy pair performing for a crowd, which contrast spectacularly with the work’s darker sections. A particularly brutal game of kiss-chase, scenes alluding to childbirth and rape and a woman who, having refused the kisses of a man, grows old, grey and lonely before our eyes are bitter and deeply unsettling.
This discordant feel, heightened by the eclectic soundtrack, makes the piece difficult viewing at times. While it is as playful and funny as it is deep and dark, this too is problematic. Laughter bubbles around the auditorium when man in tight red trunks and a swimming cap blows balloons until they burst, but later this same dancer drags women around and beats them. More laughs as a man moves about the stage on pointe in a ballet leotard demanding to know “why are you looking at me?” as another, in a belly dancer’s costume, washes up on stage.
The audience chuckles because, dressed and acting like women, the men appear as faintly ridiculous as their female colleagues forced to tackle the tricky dirt terrain in heels. These scenes also instill in Auf dem Gebirge hat man ein Geschrei gehört a profound sense of unease. Tanztheater Wuppertal has created a scrapbook of bruised femininity that is still relevant, thought-provoking and disquieting today.
Auf dem Gebirge hat man ein Geschrei gehört is on at Sadler’s Wells until 18th April 2015, for further information or to book visit here.