Sweet Mambo (4 stars)

This article is from 2014

Sweet Mambo

Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal presents a cocktail of human emotion at the Edinburgh International Festival

The difficulty in writing about a Pina Bausch work is that it sometimes seems impossible to find words to convey exactly what is being expressed; which is probably why the late dance theatre choreographer and director chose a mixture of words and dance with which to express it.

In Sweet Mambo – created in 2008, a year before Bausch died – the cast of ten appear to be circulating at the world’s most enviable cocktail party, a silk-walled place where bizarre outbursts occur and you’re told to shrug off self-consciousness by saying ‘brush’ as you lift your champagne glass. The look is couture; Oscar-chic frocks for the women, black suits for the men. It’s clear who the peacocks are here.

But this also seems to be one of many visual codes Bausch uses to play around with social ideas (in this case of gender and glamour). The intermittent unzipping of those dresses and the consequent revelation of skin produces various effects; comic joy, erotic indulgence, vulnerability.

Bausch’s work is often labelled ‘life-affirming’, something it’s difficult to grasp hold of until you see the cast soloing with ecstatic, almost orgasmic abandon, woven together with playfully awkward duets: women swung like pendulums, a man sticking his head curiously through the crook of a woman’s elbow. In one passage Aida Vainieri’s farcical monologue about talking is juxtaposed with a dance solo of such poetic beauty it seems to reveal her true self in a way words cannot.

But there is horror here too, and great sorrow. Backed by a lightning storm dancer Julie Shanahan runs towards the calling of her name, her dress flying its own dance around her as she is repeatedly hoisted back by two men who are always one step ahead.

Sweet Mambo gives us repetition like this in spades – playing into its themes of memory and longing. The second half seems to lose its way a little, with a billowing ensemble setpiece building up drama only for it to fizzle away again. But there is grace and intrigue enough to feed the mind for a long time to come.

Edinburgh Playhouse, run ended.

Sweet Mambo

  • 4 stars

Pina Bausch's piece of dance theatre about the relationship between the sexes.