(b Solingen, 27 Jul. 1940; d Wuppertal, 30 Jun. 2009)
German dancer, choreographer, and company director. One of the most influential dance artists of the late 20th century. She began her training at the age of 14 with Kurt Jooss at the Folkwang School in Essen and continued at the Juilliard School of Music in New York (1960–1) with Antony Tudor. Between 1961 and 1962 she danced with the New American Ballet at the Metropolitan Opera, a company then directed by Tudor, after which she returned to Germany as a soloist with Jooss's Folkwang Ballet. She began choreographing in 1968 and when Jooss retired in 1969 she became company director. In 1973 she was appointed director of Tanztheater Wuppertal, in Germany's industrial Ruhr Valley. Her debut work for Wuppertal was Fritz (mus. Wolfgang Hufschmidt, 1974) followed a year later by her landmark staging of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring (1975)—a work of primal power in which the dancers, divided tribally between the two sexes, performed on a stage covered with bare earth. With her 1976 production of The Seven Deadly Sins Bausch established her reputation as one of the most original and visionary creators of dance theatre.
A natural heir to the German expressionist dance tradition, Ausdruckstanz, Bausch's productions were not primarily about dance but about ideas and emotions (she herself said she was ‘not interested in how people move, but in what moves them’); they were also created from an intensive collaborative process in which the dancers contributed their own biographical material as well as movement ideas. The resulting productions were not constructed by a linear narrative logic but by associative vignettes of dance, speech, and game playing. Props and costumes played a major role as did the stage sets, created with Bausch's two main designers, the late Rolf Borzik, followed by Peter Pabst. These were often masterpieces of theatrical imagination, and engineering: in Arien the stage was covered with water; in Viktor the action took place inside a huge earthwork grave; in Nelken the stage was carpeted with thousands of carnations. Her earlier works were dominated by darker emotions: alienation, anguish, frustration, and cruelty, hence Arlene Croce's famously phrased criticism, ‘the pornography of pain’, however her later works were more overtly playful. A list of her productions includes In the Wind of Time (1969), Actions for Dancers (1971), Tannhäuser-Bacchanale (1972), Fritz (1974), Iphigenia in Tauris (1974), Orpheus and Eurydice (1975), The Rite of Spring (1975), The Seven Deadly Sins (mus. Weill, 1976), Bluebeard (1977), Cafe Müller (1978), Kontakthof (1978), Arien (1979), Legend of Chastity (1979), Bandoneon (1980), Walzer (1982), Nelken (1982), On the Mountain a Cry Was Heard (1984), Two Cigarettes in the Dark (1985), Viktor (1986), Palermo, Palermo (1989), A Dreamplay (1994), Danzon (1995), Only You (1996), Masurca Fogo (1998), Agua (2001), and Follmond (Full Moon, 2006).
Bausch also worked in film. In 1982 she collaborated with Fellini on And the Ship Sails On; she directed her own film, The Lament of the Empress (1989) and sequences of her choreography were incorporated in P. Almodóvar's Talk to Her (2002). She rarely worked outside her own company, although in 1997 she re-staged her Rite of Spring for the Paris Opera Ballet and the following year directed Bluebeard's Castle with Pierre Boulez (Aix-en-Provence). But this did not lessen her international impact. Her company toured worldwide and her productions have not only influenced many younger choreographers such as Vandekeybus, Platel, and Newson but many stage directors and designers.