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DANCE ONLINE Palermo Palermo

Masterpiece of contemporary dance transcends frontiers

ORIGINALLY performed in 1989, Palermo Palermo was filmed soon afterwards and now, digitally remastered, it reconnects with the neoexpressionist form of dance known as Tanztheater which German dancer, choreographer and director Pina Bausch so brilliantly realised.

An artwork of immense originality, it evokes the lifestyle and atmosphere of the Sicilian city and marked the beginning of Bausch’s obsession with dance as travelogue.

Ceaselessly creative, it captures the nuances of human life set against a backdrop of relentless decay and fruitless power struggles.

The people seem to live in hopeless isolation, even when locked into the vitality of urban life and the endless opportunity of personal relations.

To describe it as a multifaceted study of a capital city is to underestimate its range and capacity for detail. And always, the city seems to have a life of its own which none, not even the Church or the mafia, can really overpower.

It has a grim reality but is far from dismal, for Bausch’s exquisite choreography — combined with Peter Pabst’s shining sets that collapse into rubble and Marion Cito’s parade of frocks and drag costumes, high heels and furs — fills almost two-and-a-half hours with immaculate imagery, colour, style and kinetic energy.

And then there’s the music and accompanying words, some in English, which lift the piece into transcendency. Musical collaborator Matthias Burkert provides a continuous score that speaks across national divides.

Some he has written himself, but most is an eclectic mix ranging from Greig and Yehudi Menuhin playing Paganini to traditional tunes from Italy, Japan and the Orient.

Clarence Williams’s Bucket’s Got a Hole In It captures something of the humour and wit that unexpectedly punctuates the piece throughout in a soundtrack that is a delight.

As in a Fellini film, the work is dark but uplifting — at times surreal, it’s also grounded in time and space. And, when it ends, it leaves a vision of fruit — apples balanced like a painting in oils on the dancers’ heads — and a newly planted orchard filled with blossom rising from the rubble.

The piece, dating from the year the Berlin Wall came down, captures something of the turbulence that signified.

A masterpiece.

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