If Swan Lake can be endlessly reinvented, why shouldn’t Pina Bausch’s Café Müller? 45 years after its premiere, it is arguably a classic, and Dominik Więcek has now produced an intriguing variation on it.
His ‘fan fiction’, as he puts it, repurposes select images. There is Nazareth Panadero’s nervous trotting in heels – turned here into a slow, surreal opening sequence, in which Więcek crisscrosses the stage like a lost traveller. Like the German choreographer herself in the original, Więcek then flings himself repeatedly against a wall, and carves Bauschian shapes with his upper body.
Yet for all the fan service – a cutout of Bausch also makes an appearance – Więcek works hard to tie Café Müller to his childhood displacement from Germany to Poland, even asking audience members to repeat sentences in German. He succeeds intermittently, but what lingers in the mind is his genderfluid take on Bausch’s women. In his baby blue jumpsuit, Więcek makes it look like an organic evolution, and it is.
A loud clatter of heels. Chaotic scuttling to and fro. Darkness. When light finally hits the desperate young man, there is distress on his face. In women’s shoes and a light blue dress, the Polish artist Dominik Więcek looks like a copy of his role model. She stands behind him in the form of a larger-than-life black-and-white photo cutout – Pina Bausch.
Connoisseurs of the work of this prominent German choreographer will spot references to one of her most iconic pieces, Café Müller from 1978. Yet Więcek proudly states: ‘Das ist mein Café Müller.’ It is a brave, perhaps bold goal to set but he’s a confident performer, conscious of his actions on stage.
Behind Więcek’s furious fight poses and cries, vulnerability and fear are hidden. He can be commended for his courage in openly exposing his search for his own identity. However, unlike Bausch‘s, his inner struggle takes place too far away from the audience to stir their empathy.
When one door closes, another opens… And another, and others close yet reopen and… Dominik Więcek’s inaugural scene sees him scuttle between illuminated doorways. He lands in a fantasy of ‘What If?’ that relocates his upbringing, confronts his identity, and deifies Pina Bausch.
Throughout Café Müller, Więcek tests the plasticity of the German choreographer’s eponymous work. Warping behind his jacket, he conjures up Bauschian relics – characters and patterns of gestures. This solo flies dangerously close to its source of inspiration, and acknowledges it with a cut-out of Bausch, a humorous shrine.
Więcek brims with self-awareness and showmanship. He struts, exuberantly tosses his jacket, and gleefully delivers his school-like German. But he also touches on a darker side – slippery reality causes him to glitch, crash into walls or disappear altogether.
Not all doors lead to success, and at times the work feels cluttered with props. Still, I would cross into Więcek’s World again.