EIF 2014: Sweet Mambo, Edinburgh Playhouse, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch
Pina Bausch (director and choreographer), Peter Pabst (set design), Marion Cito (costume design), Matthias Burkert, Andreas Eisenschneider (music collaboration).
Music soundtrack: Barry Adamson, Mina Agossi, Rene Aubry, Mari Boine, Lisa Ekdahl, Brian Eno, Mecca Bodega,Jun Miyake, Hazmat Modine, Lucky Pierre, Portishead, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Hope Sandoval, Gustavo Santaolalla, Trygve Seim, Nina Simone, lan Simmonds, Tom Waits
Regina Advento, Andrey Berezin, Clémentine Deluy, Daphnis Kokkinos, Nazareth Panadero, Helena Pikon, Julie Shanahan, Julie Anne Stanzak, Michael Strecker, Aida Vainieri
Running time

At the EIF 2010, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch performed Agua, a vibrant, vivacious vision of Brazilian culture. What was so poignant was the fact that Bausch had died the year before aged just 68, still in her choreographic prime.

Now the company is back with Sweet Mambo (2008), which takes us on a sensual journey through feelings of seduction, intimacy, love and empowerment in relationships as viewed from the woman’s perspective.

Bausch again shows her distinctive, unconventional approach, where choreography, stage sets, film, music, speech, costumes, props and the dancers’ personalities combine in elaborate theatricality.

The back wall of the Playhouse stage is draped in huge white, luminous muslin curtains. The soundtrack slowly starts with a steady beat like Morse Code as a dark haired girl saunters on, swinging her hips with an exotic, free-spirited air.

“My name is Regina”, she tells us, “don’t forget - Regiiina”. A tall, slender blonde woman pirouettes gracefully as the muslin sheets billow out behind her.

One by one we meet the seven glamorous women, each in silky, satin peach, pink or cream evening dresses, while the music shifts in tempo rapping up the rhythm. A sequence of unconnected vignettes feature female solos, brief encounters between men and women and humorous comments addressing the audience.

Wearing an elegant black taffeta frock, a women stands with a champagne glass, “When you go to a party alone, just say the word, Brush. Brush, really.!”

We see a girl happily performing cartwheels and then a woman rushing forward, being pushed back, reaching out, pulled away. This is a recurring depiction of masculine control, such as a man pulling, dragging, a woman by her hair.

After the interval, the men take a more prominent role with the dance moves more languid, seductive: a trio of women, their dresses partially unzipped express flirtatious empowerment.

The extravagant, stylised design, dominated by the forest of fabric, floating clouds of curtain and beautiful flowing gowns is a magical, mesemerising sight. This is complemented by the eclectic music and choreography, switching from slow and serene to sweeping twirls and swirls across the stage.

Sitting in the Dress Circle, it was difficult at times to hear the speech clearly; at the start, there was a burst of laughter from the Stalls but silence upstairs as we hadn’t caught the joke.

“Life is like riding a bicycle” we are told. Yes, this is all rather curious and enigmatic, (incomprehensible at times), but no matter: to appreciate Bausch’s imaginative, highly disciplined dance creations, you just have to go with the flow from effervescently playful to a dark dramatic narrative.

Sweet Mambo draws you into an hypnotic, surreal world, which at its emotional heart, expresses life-affirming optimism in its energy and pure, passionate sense of being.

Show times:
23 - 26 August @ 7.30pm
Ticket prices: £10-£32