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Likhit Nayak

Dr. Lauren Neefe

ENGL 1101
31st October, 2014

Caf Muller: Love, Loss and Loneliness

In Caf Muller, Pina Bausch is trying to bring out the dynamics of
a relationship between a man and a woman. I think it is one of the
most unique pieces amongst Bauschs works. The sequence
opens with two women (Aida Vainieri and Helena Pikon) dancing
near the wall in a room filled with chairs. They try to cling to the
walls which depicts their despair and loneliness. The forlorn
background music works very well to highlight their loneliness
and the sad expressions on their faces. The entire stage with gray
walls, dark chairs and scattered tables also heighten
melancholy, which is one of the main themes of the movie.
Caf Muller is a special sequence in many ways. It is one of the
few performances which originally had Bausch dancing in it.
Apart from that, it is special because it has the attributes of a
typical Pina Bausch piece while being very different from her
archetypal performances. In most of her performances, Bausch
uses elements of nature like soil, rock and water extensively.
Throughout the movie, most of her works are out in the open or in
a close association with nature. But Caf Muller is inside a closed
room filled with props. That makes it unique and different. At the
same time, it has some of the characteristics of typical Bausch
choreography. It focuses a lot on little details. Each tiny piece

matters which is the case with many of Bauschs works. It also

uses a variety of ideas and themes which constantly work
together to emphasize the motif of the performance love and
loss. Bausch manages to subtly interweave an array of different
themes in her performances. In Caf Muller, she wants to bring
out the fact that people need love to deal with loneliness, love
also has an accompanying sense of loss. She weaves together
many different themes to depict this.
One of the main themes of the movie and of most of Bauschs
work is repetition. Caf Muller is no exception. There is
repetition involved in the part where the couple (Vainieri and
Dominique Mercy) embrace each other and Michal Strecker
sequentially separates them from their embrace. Strecker then
places Vainieri in the arms of Mercy. Vainieris lack of bearing and
poise while placed in Mercys arms may point to the fact that she
is dead. In this part, Strecker may be personifying Fate who wants
to separate Vainieri and Mercy while the couple try hard to fight
against him. The sequence is characterized by a lack of music
which heightens the panting sounds made my Vainieri and Mercy.
This co-relates with the image of struggle of the couple to
emphasize their exasperation as they fight for their love. It also
helps accentuate Streckers expression as he huffs and puffs in his
determined effort to separate the couple. The repetition used by
Bausch enhances the anguish of the scene, symbolizing the
constant struggle of the couple. It also brings outs one of central
themes of the movie struggle involved with loss. This is a

recurring theme of
Bauschs works like in the
Rite of Spring, where she
highlights the sacrifice of a
woman in a tribe and in the
part near the end of the
movie, where the dancer is
leashed to a wall struggling

Figure 1 Strecker placing a 'dead' Vaineri into

Mercy's arms.

against the loss of her freedom.

In Caf Muller, Bausch also makes extensive use of contrast

between characters and their moves. In the first part of Caf
Muller, while Aida Vainieris
movements venture into the
space filled with chairs,
Helena Pikons movements
are more restricted to a
small space by the wall.
Figure 2 Vainieri venturing into the ' world of

While Vainieri is brave

enough to venture into the

world of love to escape her loneliness, Pikon wants to cling to the

walls instead and is too afraid to go further. Even their moves
depict a subtle contrast. Vanieris moves are graceful and work
both with the gloomy music to heighten her loneliness and
against it to show that she is on her way to find love to fight her
despair. Pikon however performs the same steps in a much more
constrained manner. The slow but forceful background music
emphasizes her movements to depict her fear to go out into the
world of love. This probably represents the two choices that
people make in response to life, to love. Some people just fall
deeper into the vicious circle of loneliness like Pikon, while others
try to find love and support to help them with their despair.
In the movie, Malou Airaudo says that chairs played an important
role in Caf Muller. So what do the chairs represent? I think that
they are a manifestation of the obstacles faced in love. And
consequently, the man in the suit (Jean Sasportes) who tries to

remove the chairs from Vainieris path is maybe someone close to

her who doesnt want her to get hurt. His pained expression at the
beginning of the sequence shows that he cares for Vainieri.
Therefore, he tries his best to remove the chairs from her path.
The use of chairs helps bring about a contrast between the
movements of Sasportes and Vainieri. Vainieris movements are
graceful and in sync with the music, transmitting pain and
pleasure at the same time. Sasportes movements however have
no relation with the music. They are focused on removing chairs
from Vainieris path. This contrast drives home the idea that
Vainieri is in a world completely different from Sasportes.
Sasportes cannot reach her directly. All he can do to protect her is
remove all impediments that may wound her.
The fact that both the women dancers have their eyes closed
while performing may further emphasize the idea that they are in
a different world. They are dressed in nightgowns. The music is
slow and works with the movement of the dancers to create a
sleepwalking effect. All this was done to create a dreamscape
where Pikon and Vainieri are lost completely. While Pikon accepts
her loneliness, Vainieri ventures out to find love in the
dreamscape. Since Mercy also has his eyes closed, he is a part of
the same dreamscape as Vainieri and Pikon. Through this entire
setting, Bausch wants her audience to know that people lost in
loneliness or love become a part of a different world. A person lost
in despair and loneliness shuts himself out from the real world
into a confined space while a person lost in love is in a world of

his own where he is oblivious to the impediments of the real

For Pina Bausch, little
details play a very
important role. She
says in the film that
while performing a
reprise of Caf Muller,
Figure 3 Vanieri and Mercy lost in the dreamscape
while Sasportes tries to protect them from the hurt
and sorrow of the real world.

she didnt get the

same feeling because

her eyes were not looking in the same direction behind her closed
eyelids. This slightest detail made all the difference to her.
Likewise, all the little details in her performances play a very
important role or rather the primary role. In Caf Muller, Pikons
role as the lonely woman afraid to venture further is always in the
background. Her movements are quite monotonous and she is
rarely in focus. In spite of all this, her role is very important. It was
in fact the role that Bausch herself performed in the original Caf
Muller. The portrayal of this character brings out the distinction
between the choices that both the women make and the
consequences. While Vainieri and Mercy were fighting for their
love against Fate, Pikon was still by the wall repeating her
monotonous movements. Vainieris struggle emphasizes Pikons
loneliness. While she and Mercy are panting and struggling, Pikon
is just going through a loop of silent monotonous movements.

Bauschs works have a certain sense of spontaneity and

instinctiveness. It is as if she take something and joins it to a
different something where it feels right and continues this to
design her entire performance. Fernando Mendoza acknowledges
this when he says, For Full Moon, Bausch requested a gesture
related to joy or to the pleasure of moving. From the movement I
presented, she created an entire scene. She applied a similar
process with Caf Muller. As Malou Airaudo said, Bausch suddenly
came up with the idea of using chairs to fill up the empty space
and eventually, the chairs became an integral part of the
So, each of the themes and ideas used in Caf Muller work to
emphasize each other. Repetition and contrast, stage and props,
dance and music and the sound and image are in perfect
coherence with each other. In fact, they highlight the main motif
of the entire sequence love and loss. Bausch wants her audience
to see that life without love is filled with despair and
hopelessness. Love, on the other hand, gives you hope and
support. It gives you a cause to fight and struggle for. But
ironically, it also gives you grief and sense of bereavement, when
you lose someone you love. This is the truth of life. Caf Mullers
interweaving themes makes you understand all this in a way
words would fail to.