Ever pushing the envelope of avant-garde theatre, this December Rowan University’s Department of Theatre and Dance proudly opened its stage to our very own Paule Turner’s original collaborative dance-theatre piece: Will You Marry Me, Pina Bausch?
Inspired by Turner’s admitted mental love affair with choreographer Pina Bausch, the show is described by its dance-actors as “a marriage proposal to the woman who, with her work, has given birth to everything Paule Turner has ever done.” And perhaps this much could be inferred by even the most untrained theatre-goer, what with four of the five males in the cast brandishing “Will You Marry Me?” on their bare chests and Pina Bausch herself being plastered all over the set. But to say that there is more than meets the eye would be an understatement.
If you saw the show and actually took the time to read your program, you would have been warned ahead of time to refrain from trying to locate a plot in this two hour piece. Needless to say, most audience members did not read their programs. I would be one of them. I did, however, have the incredible luck of interviewing one of the prominent cast members, Tyler Garamella, who shed some glorious light on this awe-inspiring show.
An actor by trade, Garamella describes his movement theatre debut as the most abstract and creative thing he’s ever done. It combined dance’s fluidity and bodily freedom with some of modern theatre’s fresher ideas: such as an individual actor playing multiple roles throughout one production.
Will You Marry Me, Pina Bausch? features a cast of 17 but follows only four characters: The [asexual] piano player, the woman (whore), the proposer (Paule) and the fawn. The plot follows the woman throughout her tragic life, enveloping her in a gaudy, presumptuous fur coat the entire time. In the beginning scenes she is raped as a child while an eery monologue explains that the men behind the crime only commit it because they know her family and her ill roots, and more importantly, know that she is never expected to become anything more than the street rat she is. While multiple females play the woman in different stages of her life, her made-up gentle suitor, the fawn, remains the only steady role in the show, played by actor Jaried Kimberly.
The piano player, sometimes played by a male, sometimes a woman brandishing a set of fake boobs, acts as the narrator of the production, constantly prodding it along between scenes. Choreography remains the same for the role throughout the show, but it is made unique by each actor-dancer. Finally, the proposer represents Paule Turner himself, and is often seen throwing chairs, waving flashlights, burning down the set and screaming, “Pina! Pina!”
Through the interweaving of these four characters, the production carries out perhaps the only truly solid theme it has: the essence of love. Displaying everything from young love, to lustful adoration, to rape, mistrust, seduction, neglect and death, Will You Marry Me, Pina Bausch? truly offers an honest rendition of something artists have been trying to make sense of for years. Summarized best in one scene at the end of the show, in which one of the proposers, Joseph Grasso, strips to his underwear and crawls across the grassy set, heartbroken, repeating a mantra of, “Love is an unattended pool. Swim at your own risk. Swim at your own risk…Swim. Swim. Yes, definitely swim.”
And, ladies and gentlemen, is that not what motivates everything we do as performers, as people? Life itself is an unattended pool, but swim. Definitely swim.