World Cities 2012 is a set of ten pieces created between 1986 and 2009, the year of Pina Bausch’s death. Each is a response to a different city on the globe. Ten Chi, just one chapter of this very alternative travel guide, marks time spent immersed in the day-to-day of Saitama, Japan.

The piece begins boldly, before any performers are seen. Peter Pabst’s dynamically sculpted set – a freeze-frame of a whale disappearing beneath the waves with its tail tossed high in the air – immediately highlights one of Japanese culture’s less appreciated features. The following performance does not hint at critique, although Bausch often provides a send-up some of the more stereotypical aspects of the Japanese culture. The following two hours and 40 minutes is a frantic storyboard acknowledging all the pervasive clichés from karate and inappropriate photography to geishas and the almost excessively well-mannered society. Ten Chi is luckily not a stab at explaining the ‘real Japan’ to an ignorant audience, as it could easily have been. Instead it is an honest and amusing personal response to the country and culture.

Ten Chi taps less into the patience of Zen or even Butoh and instead treats us to a mad mish-mash indicative of the kind of short attention span and eye-grabbing images one might associate with the modern technological and anime culture. Ideas are picked up suddenly and dropped just as fast. Generally this is a blessing, but occasionally it is a shame, as captivating moments with the potential for development disappear quickly and never reappear. Even the music is short and snappy and often left raw and unmixed as calmer background music is suddenly cut short and replaced by frantic jazz.

The piece isn’t all constant chopping and changing, though. The second half briefly acquires a new and lengthier focus with more time given to the development of scenes. This half is characterised by an unending snowfall (though it could be blossom). This new element provides some scintillating effects as the flakes whirl up, disturbed by the dancers’ limbs or hair. The scattered snow provides some immediately powerful imagery, the creation of which has always been one of Bausch’s talents.

Most of Ten Chi’s sketches are infected with a laugh-out-loud, absurd humour. And its not just the kind of high humour that can only be understood by the initiated. Whilst interested parties may read deeper into the piece, anyone can take it at its face value and find it thoroughly entertaining.

The humour helps lessen the potential for pretentiousness. Often pieces such as this with its strong, abstract, images strung together seemingly randomly and at breakneck speed can reek of self-indulgence. Ten Chi, however, keeps the audience on side simply by being so enjoyable.

The characters that Bausch creates provide a lot of the work’s fascination. Each performer, whether speaking, miming or purely dancing has a distinct character, but there are two that are most prominent: the brash and utterly bonkers woman, and the mysterious man in drag. The woman is loud, raucous and bizarre, and provides plenty of laughs whilst the man in drag is more restrained, treating us to a selection of pithy anecdotes and titbits of false wisdom. The character feels distant and compelling.

In fact, the whole cast is compelling. Tanztheater Wuppertal demonstrate that a good dancer matures with age. Experience lends them all a quality and conviction that is rarely seen in younger dancers.

Ten Chi does not show the melancholy Bausch of Café Müller or The Rite of Spring, with their all-encompassing intensity. Instead, it is silly and mad and incredibly fun.

Ten Chi (Saitama), at Barbican TheatreKit Brown reviews Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch at the Barbican with Ten Chi.4