REVIEW – Sweet Mambo (Edinburgh International Festival)


By Danielle Farrow

Sweet Mambo is one of the final pieces created by Pina Bausch with her company Tanztheater Wuppertal, which now also bears the great dancer and choreographer’s name. It is an often poignant look at personal relationships between women and men, though with only three of the latter, none of the men speaking individually to the audience, and a stronger focus on the females visually and within the dance, the emphasis is more on the women.

Against white curtains, often billowing, and increasingly becoming part of the dance and dancers, black clad men and gorgeously gowned women – in slips, evening garments and flowing flowered day dresses – flirt, fumble, hide, expose, search and scream through needs, desires, struggles and fears. Performances are impressive, not only in the detailed, rooted physicality, but also in the sense created that we are seeing personal journeys, told in Bausch’s particular dance-theatre manner, where we occasionally hear from the dancers for advice, jokes and anecdotes, song and each other’s names. A number give their names with an admonishment not to forget – a theme that flows through the piece, along with struggles to relate to self and others. The second part has some mirroring of the first, but moving backwards, and with a darker feel to elements previously seen. The whole is beautifully lit on different levels, with music that matches yet varies with shades of jazz, lounge, country and rock influences, as the dancers flow through solo, pas de deux and ensemble explorations.

Black and white film footage projected against the back curtains, where a strained relationship and temptation to cheat plays out, was in danger of stealing focus and overwhelmed one solo section, having more of a questioning effect than a supportive one. And, somehow, somewhere inside, there is the tiniest sense of something missing – an almost infinitesimal longing for some extra ingredient. Is the melancholy a little too much? Could the dancers be, just a little, ‘going through the motions’? “How can you dance and not go through the motions?” you may ask, but this company and Pina Bausch’s work has at its essence life, love and longing, dance that is passion expressed, positive and negative real-life emotions given visual, physical form in motion, not just ‘going through the motions’. Are these dancers still fully connecting to what they are now expressing? Are they still full of the questions that stimulated their work originally, so often previously posed by Bausch?

Of course, every company working on a piece should find their way to bringing it to life, and these performers are still way beyond the empty moves of those unconnected to selves and true expression in their dance.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch presents an exciting, vibrant ensemble, together even in their individuality, who surprise, provoke and move their audience. The warmth of response from the majority of the audience – at the interval as well as the end, when many rose to their feet for the final ovation – shows just how well they received Sweet Mambo and how much this company means to them.

23-25 August, 19:30 (22:00) @ Playhouse

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