Pina Bausch was a pioneering dancer.

Pina Bausch has left behind a deep imprint in the hearts and minds of not only Indian dancers and theatre directors, but also audiences, who have marvelled at her creativity for over 30 years. The least that can be said of Pina Bausch is that she constantly broke new ground in her work. When she first performed “The Rite of Spring” in 1979, both, the dance world and the theatre world in India stood up in wonder. The boundary between contemporary dance and theatre had been broken and a new genre “Dance Theatre”, became a byword in performing arts circles. The implications of this were immense as it opened doors where actors and dancers could experiment and connect with each other. A new vocabulary for dance and theatre had been created.

So strong was the theatricality in Pina’s dance choreography, that she sometimes wryly reminded audiences that her performers had their foundations in western classical Ballet as well as in Modern Dance. In “Nelken” (carnations), the entire stage floor was covered with carnations between 7000 to 8000 in number, ‘growing’ from out of the floor. On this stage her dancers performed with great ingenuity, and at the height of a very violent dramatic moment, they turned to the audience, as if in a gesture of defiance, and burst into a most exquisite piece of ballet.

Last year, Pina premiered her new piece in Delhi for the inauguration of the NSD’s Bharat Mahotsav — a piece titled “Bamboo Blues”. This piece was entirely inspired by her deep involvement with India. She visited different parts of India, like Kerala, Kolkata and others, many times while formulating this piece. On some of these visits, we would meet for breakfast when she was passing through Delhi. It is especially inspiring when a creative person from abroad presents a work inspired by India. “Bamboo Blues” poignantly represents moments of silence and those of intense frenzy in one breath — it goes into the inner essence of the sensory experience of India. It is often something we take for granted, and it is re-awakened in our subconscious when seen through the eyes of someone who does not live here.

I first met Pina in the strangest of circumstances in 1979. It was past midnight when the phone rang, and there was an urgent request from the other end of the line, if I could make my way to the Siri Fort auditorium. I ended up with my group working through the night, helping Pina’s technical team to set up for “The Rite of Spring”. At the back of the auditorium, I could see this Madonna-like figure, watching patiently. She never called out aloud. Only whispered to someone sitting near her when she wanted to say something. This caused a great flutter, sending members of her group into a flurry. So much was the respect they showed for her, and so much was the authority she commanded. At the end of the work, she thanked me graciously, and asked if I would be with the group all through their rehearsals and shows in Delhi. At the end of this visit, we became friends. Not chatty friends, but a friendship with some meaning and depth. I also learnt from her that she was petrified of flying in planes. Behind the calm and gentle appearance was a very vibrant, excitable and intense person, whose friendship could be very deep. We met many times in the following 30 years, spent a lot of time together, said not too much, but our friendship grew each time. She expressed herself through simple physical contact and meaningful glances.

Pina Bausch passed away on June 30, 2009, soon after she was diagnosed with cancer. This is a devastating tragedy not only to the ‘dance’ world, but for all art. Her company Tanztheater is based in the small town of Wuppertal in Germany.