Ghosts of Modernism: Beckett, Bausch and Dance/Theatre Intersections

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Garnering ever increasing international acclaim in the years following her death, Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater continues to defy easy classification. At the outset of her career, Bausch divided critics with a new choreographic method that drew heavily on the Theatre of the Absurd. However, while scholars have identified parallels with postmodern dance practice and postdramatic theatre, the impact of Modernist writing and drama on Bausch’s work remains comparatively under explored.

This paper examines the crucial influence of Samuel Beckett on what I term Bausch’s ‘experimental’ period. The pieces devised between 1976 and 1978 express an evident desire to shatter the conventions of modern dance. Yet while demonstrating radical innovation in terms of Bausch’s practice, many elements of their construction and presentation are foregrounded in Modernist theatre. I posit that her work of this period is haunted in particular by Beckett, a process Marvin Carlson (2001) defines as ‘ghosting.’ Bausch’s tragicomic explorations of the human condition owe a significant debt to Beckett, a factor that remains largely absent from critical writing on her work.

Bluebeard: While listening to a tape recording of Béla Bartók’s opera ‘Duke Bluebeard’s Castle (1977) represents a milestone in the development of Bausch’s new approach, and here I will propose a new reading of the work as a response to and revision of Krapp’s Last Tape. Bluebeard dispensed with recognisable dance vocabulary altogether in its exploration of the protagonist’s split personality, represented by a dancer onstage and an operatic voice played by the titular tape recorder.

In this paper, I position Bausch and Beckett as the ‘last Modernists’ in their respective postmodern milieus, proposing that we may understand Bausch’s work better viewed through the lens of Beckett’s influence. Accordingly, I will make explicit the intersections between Beckett’s writing and experimental dance theatre, providing both a new understanding of contemporary dance history and Beckett’s broader legacy across art forms.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016
Event2nd Conference of the Samuel Beckett Society (Beckett and Modernism) - University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium
Duration: 27 Apr 201630 Apr 2016


Conference2nd Conference of the Samuel Beckett Society (Beckett and Modernism)


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