The Paris Review

Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring

Revisited is a series in which writers look back on a work of art they first encountered long ago. Here, Vanessa Manko revisits Pina Bausch’s, The Rite of Spring.

Pina Bausch, The Rite of Spring, 1984. Performance view, Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York, 2017. Photo: Stephanie Berger

“Dance, dance otherwise we are lost,” Pina Bausch, the German choreographer and artistic director of Tanztheater Wuppertal, famously said. I first saw—or rather, experienced—Pina Bausch when I was an undergraduate studying abroad in Paris. I had trained in dance since I was six years old, but I had recently left the ballet company I was dancing for, putting an end to what had been only the very beginning of a career. To say that I was lost because I was no longer dancing would be an understatement. I had fled to Paris to fill the gaping hole that ballet had left within me. I would learn French, study art and culture, travel, and take in all that Paris and Europe had to offer—but still, I had lost my way of expressing myself, and I had not yet found another once again. I longed for the light and grace and beauty that had been, for so long, my existence. My identity had been built within ballet’s rigorous daily routines and the discipline of beginning each day in first position at the barre. Dancers are different creatures. They are cloistered in studios all day, rehearsing or performing late into the evenings, and they have a certain predilection for perfectionism. It’s a monastic life. I found myself in civilian life feeling as if I were one of the fallen, cast out of ballet’s mighty kingdom. “Why did you quit?” people asked. It was painful to hear that word, , the sound of it like an axe striking wood. “It just wasn’t working,” I’d say, as if it were a divorce. But I had stopped because I wanted to go to college, and I yearned for something more—life, knowledge, food, art, books. And so, Paris.

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