Four years after the death of choreographer and dancer Pina Bausch, Lutz Förster is set to take the helm at her dance theater in Wuppertal. He faces the challenge of breathing fresh energy into a steadfast tradition.
Pina Bausch was not interested in how people move, but what moves them.
Bausch's interpretation of dance diverged significantly from classical ballet as she saw herself more closely aligned with German expressionist dance. The director of the dance theater "Tanztheater Pina Bausch" in the western German city of Wuppertal became an icon, awarded profusely for her work, and sought-after by the most prestigious opera houses in the world.
She died of cancer in June 2009, marking the end of an era. German director Wim Wenders memorialized her two years later in a posthumous documentary, "Pina." The film was nominated for an Oscar and brought worldwide attention to Pina Bausch.
Recovering from shock
Her sudden death rocked the dance world, global audiences, and the dance troupe into a state of shock. At the time, the decision was made to continue the Tanztheater's leadership under the direction of Bausch's assistant, Robert Sturm, and long-time dancer and friend, Dominique Mercy.
This decision turned out to be the right one, invigorating the ensemble both mentally and artistically, as well as captivating old audiences and garnering new ones. The troupe's performances are now more popular than ever around the world, and they even made a guest appearance at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Nevertheless, a certain restlessness and discontent began to permeate the group. There was simply no artist challenge to be found in maintaining the Bausch tradition by recycling and performing all the old pieces over and over again. Eventually the repertoire would grow stale, which would only frustrate young dancers and disinterest both audiences and critics alike.
Thus it was decided in Wuppertal to forge forward with a new beginning. In summer 2013, dancer and dance educator Lutz Förster will assume artistic direction of the Tanztheater. Managing Director Dirk Hesse says the dance theater's decision to select Förster was unanimous. Förster takes over the reigns with great respect, saying, "But I'm not afraid."
Pina Bausch recruited Förster in 1975 to her ensemble. He has danced in nearly every piece and lingers in the audience's memory thanks to his extraordinary stage presence. On YouTube, his emotional and heartwarming interpretation of the song, "The Man I Love," in sign language has won over new fans who weren't yet familiar with dance theater.
Filling Pina's big shoes
Nevertheless, he accepts his new role humbly. "You can only attempt to fill Pina's big shoes." But he is someone who is in a position to guarantee the preservation of Pina Bausch's legacy. The dancers in the ensemble know him, and they trust him.
No new productions until 2015
The ever-charming Förster is, however, not a choreographer, and he has no plans to add new pieces to the repertoire. "There will be no new productions until 2015," he stated.
In autumn 2013, the Tanztheater will celebrate its 40th anniversary with a grand festival. Förster considers festival preparations his top priority at the moment. In addition to cultivating the repertoire and planning for the festival, a crucial task will be to draft a plan for the future.
Förster will be serving as director until 2015. During this time, imaginative new ideas are crucial to the development of the troupe. Lutz Förster will need supporters, instigators and moderators - none of whom have been officially named.
At the moment, there are only informal discussions, but one name stands out: Stefan Hilterhaus, a Folkwang graduate, currently directs the choreographic center "Pact" in Essen, just north of Wuppertal. "Pact" has made a name for itself not only through its experimental and contemporary dance performances by internationally revered choreographers, but also through its cooperation with university and cross-genre workshops.
Expanding the Bausch circle
Hilterhaus would be a good adviser, and could represent an opening up of the Bausch inner circle. The Tanztheater, often described as a "closed shop" whose pieces are not performed by other dance companies, would surely benefit from an openness to new concepts, ideas and choreographies.
Regardless of who teams up with Lütz, it is a necessary move. Only then can the world-renown Tanztheater forge forward with a sustainable concept beyond 2015. Former directors Dominique Mercy und Robert Sturm requested to step down from their posts due to the exhausting work. Nevertheless, they will remain on board: Sturm as director of operations and Mercy as a consultant.