I predict a riot … Pina Bausch’s Nelken. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

Even when he was still a dance student, Daphnis Kokkinos knew that Pina Bausch was the only choreographer with whom he wanted to work. He’d seen just two of her productions, yet the poignant absurdities of Café Müller, in which six characters sleepwalk in and out of a cafe, and the demonic savagery of Rite of Spring, in which a sacrificial victim is chosen on a stage covered in thick, dark earth, had shaken him to his core. So as soon as he graduated from the Athens State Academy, Kokkinos headed to Wuppertal – the industrial city in north Germany, where Bausch and her company were based.

“I was on the train for three days,” he says. “When I arrived, I hadn’t shaved, I’d hardly eaten. I was terrified – I didn’t know anyone. But I found my way to Pina’s studio, knocked on the door, and said, ‘Good morning, I’m Daphnis from Crete.'” Bausch held him in a hug (in so far as her tiny body could envelop a 6ft Greek) and let him stay. Kokkinos has now been dancing with the company for 22 years.

Touching as this story sounds, it’s not exceptional. There are dancers from 17 nationalities currently in Bausch’s company, and many of them made similar pilgrimages. When the choreographer died last summer, aged 68, those 31 dancers were bereft. Bausch was also mourned around the world by people who’d only ever known her through her work. Since founding her company in 1973, she had developed a style of dance theatre that took audiences into the darkest, strangest crannies of the human psyche. A goofy gag (a man chasing a woman with a toy mouse) or a brutally simple choreographic motif (a couple dashing themselves bruisingly against each other’s chests) could feel like a naked revelation of desire, pain or wild, lurching hilarity.


Judith Mackrell