Our week with Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch

Cecil Rowe was among three members of the Company of Elders cast as extras by our International Associate Company Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch for their recent performances of Viktor on the Sadler’s Wells stage. Here, he reflects on their extraordinary week with the renowned company.

There are not many shows that come along that are actively looking to cast older gentlemen as extras, so when that show happens to be a Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch production like Viktor and is being staged at Sadler’s Wells, then the Company of Elders is not a bad place to start looking for such gents.

When the  invitation arrived to audition on Sunday afternoon the 4 February for a coveted walk-on role in Viktor, three men from the Company of Elders took up the invitation and were absolutely delighted to make it through. What an amazing week we have had!

The audition was hardly out of the way before rehearsals began, just hours later! We had to work fast, Opening Night would take place on the Thursday evening, just four days later. The elder extras were divided into two groups: those ostensibly invalided by a disaster of some kind, who would be carried across the back of the stage by the younger extras in what is known as ‘the chaos scene’, and those who would be dressed in white doctor’s coats, pretending to make their way over shifting ground with two planks of wood, using them as stepping stones.

Each came with its pros and cons. Being carried across the stage at speed, slung over the shoulder of a young man, might sound a doddle, but if you were picked up and carried off without having established a comfortable posture, it was no fun having a hard shoulder digging into your ribs for the entire journey. Those of us in the doctor’s white coats, had to keep low and try and balance on the two tricky planks of wood we used as stepping stones.  It was murder on the knees! And woe betide you if you got caught up in the traffic jam that would sometimes develop as you headed for the wings and the music cue to exit caught up with you.

Our favourite scene by far was in the second act, when all the older gents gather around a table to quaff some wine and play cards while some of the women in the company grab hold of rings hanging from the flies and swing back and forth out into the auditorium, their heels not far from our heads as they swing back over the stage.  The wine was real and very drinkable and the card games totally fictitious but great fun.

We all, also, just before interval, had the opportunity to waltz briefly with a member of the company. That was pure magic! At the end of each performance, what a thrill too, to take a curtain call on the main stage at Sadler’s Wells, hand in hand with members of Tantztheater Wuppertal! For all three of us, I think, a huge honour to share the stage, if only for a few minutes, with them.

All in all, a week etched in our memories and one we will treasure and never forget.

“To work with the company was truly amazing, the work ethic of them all is awe-inspiring and they are all so friendly. And to stand on the Sadler’s Wells stage at the end and be part of the company receiving the audience’s appreciation was just wonderful. It is an experience I shall not forget, especially the chaos section!” Christopher Dunham


Image: (L to R) Company of Elders members Cecil Rowe, Christopher Dunham and Damien Murphy.