Sitting in a crowded row in the famed Acropolis Theater in Athens watching Tanztheater Wuppertal perform Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring and Café Muller, Daphnis Kokkinos vowed that once he finished his studies, he would make his way to Germany. Kokkinos had already relocated once to pursue his passion, from his hometown of Heraklion, Crete, to the capital.
A performer, rehearsal director and member of the Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal repertory team, Kokkinos, 53, knows the ins and outs of this internationally acclaimed troupe like the back of his hand. It is early evening and he has just arrived back to his hotel room in Berlin, the city in which Tanztheater Wuppertal is performing. From the first moments of the conversation, Kokkinos speaks with such warmth and honesty, it is hard not to fall immediately in love with him.
“We are six boys in the family,” says Kokkinos. “In Crete, they dance for any occasion; marriage, engagement, name days, birthdays... They’re looking for occasions to dance, just dance. I don’t know why I wanted to go to the ballet school in Crete. I just saw it and felt that I wanted to go there.
“I had to move to Athens because in Crete we don’t have a national dance school, and there aren’t boys in the ballet school, so I couldn’t go there. I started theater and dance and then I saw that my body wanted to go to dance. I really don’t know why. I had to. My body wanted to dance. There was nothing else for me. This was my world.”
In Athens, Kokkinos was exposed to many different styles of dance and choreography. But the moment he laid eyes on Pina Bausch’s work, he was forever changed. “I was studying in the national school in my second year when the company came. I was totally shocked. It was like something magical happened to me.”
The minute the diploma hit his hand, Kokkinos packed a bag and boarded a train that would take three days to arrive in Wuppertal. “I went to the studio, looked at Pina and said, ‘Hello, I’m Daphnis. I’m from Crete and I love your work.’
“I was a young boy, alone, hungry, exhausted after three days in the train. I must have looked so lost because when I said ‘Hello,’ she stood up and hugged me,” says Kokkinos.
“Six months before she died, we were in Santiago performing. We were in the restaurant at two in the morning, talking, smoking, drinking, and I told her ‘Thank you for this hug.’ I’m glad I got the chance to tell her that.”
In 1990, Bausch didn’t have an opening in her company, but recognizing Kokkinos’ commitment and drive, she offered him a chance to stick around to watch some of the company’s rehearsal. At that time Bausch also directed the performing company of the dance school in Wuppertal.
“She asked me if I wanted to join that company and I said ‘Yes.’ Three years later, we were in Tokyo and she told me she had one place free in the company and asked if I was interested. I couldn’t say anything, I just hugged her. I never said ‘Yes.’”
Kokkinos went on to learn every piece in the repertoire and to participate in the creative processes of dozens of Bausch’s works in the coming decades. From dancer, he became her assistant and later, a rehearsal director. Many will recognize him from Wim Wenders’ film Pina.
He explains that the artistic journey for each creation began with questions. “When she started a new piece, she didn’t know anything. There was no set, no costumes, no music. She would give us questions or ask us to imagine a situation. When we had something, we would show it to her. She would tape everything. We would do this for over a month and there would be like one hundred questions. Afterwards, she would ask to see the things that were interesting again. If I had 200 things, she would ask to see 40 that she wanted to see again. If she was still interested, she would try to put things together with other dancers. In the end, she would take five things.”
Kokkinos remembers the creation process of Masurca Fogo, which he will perform next month at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center, particularly well.
“We did a co-production in Lisbon in 1998. We were inspired by the city. They brought us to see fado concerts, they brought us to see how they did bullfighting. We went to the school to see how they learn it and learn it a bit. We went to the farm of the bulls and they were running behind us. They brought us around many different places, schools, dance schools, folklore studio. We went to museums, all these situations just to get inspired. All this to bring to the studio. She gave us this beautiful trust and space to create,” he says.
When Bausch died in 2009, Kokkinos became part of a repertory team charged with passing on her legacy of work to a new generation of dancers. “We don’t want to change anything, and we try not to change but, of course, without her it’s different. We have many original dancers, half of the cast is still original for many of the pieces. Half are people who worked with Pina for many years, so they have the knowledge, and the assistants have all the books that Pina wrote. Of course, when we put it on stage, I wish she was there because it’s so difficult but she’s not and we have to accept it.”
His love of and admiration for Bausch shine through the conversation. It is clear that there was a strong personal bond as well as a deep relationship with her work. “We recognize our stories in there because it’s real life. We can find our stories there or those of someone we know, someone we love or someone we lost. It’s not abstract. It’s life. It’s touching you because it’s real,” he says.
Tanztheater Wuppertal will perform at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center on October 4, 5, and 6. For more information, visit www.israel-opera.co.il.