The rhythm of a Pina Bausch piece is obsessively regular. Bursts of violence are followed by long stillnesses. Bits of business are systematically repeated, sometimes with increasing urgency but more often with no variation at all. At every repetition, less is revealed, and the action that looked gratuitous to begin with dissolves into meaningless frenzy. "Café Müller," which opened the Bausch season and set the pattern for it, is thirty-five minutes long and feels ninety; its subject is duration, and repetition is its only device. The café--apparently meant to resemble a real place--seems to be the canteen of a mental hospital. A small cast of inmates gives us intermittent doses of violent/apathetic behavior while a woman who may be a visitor scurries noisily about in high-heeled shoes. Music from Purcell's operas drifts over the loudspeakers, doing its best to solemnize the goings on. "Café Müller," with its thin but flashy shtick, is a how-to-make-theatre handbook. It enshrines the amateur's faith in psychopathy as drama.
"Dancing: Bad Smells"
The New Yorker, 16 July 1984
What you see is what you get, a highly charged theatrical experience performed by mature-looking performers who appear spent by life before they even begin living. The excitement emanates from the highly controlled energy, the brilliant use of space, the cinematic overlap and flow of imagery.
There is something allegorical about Miss Bausch's own role in ''Cafe Müller,'' which juxtaposes tense dramatic action with five arias from Purcell's ''Fairie Queen.'' In an evidently public room (designed by Rolf Borzik), a deserted cafe with scattered tables and chairs, Miss Bausch wanders in a nightgown, with eyes closed. Yet everything about this groping sleepwalker suggests that she is absorbing into her pores every single detail of the emotionally stunted behavior around her - just as she has absorbed the life around her to create her work.
The New York Times
13 June 1984
There is the same attitude towards the blending of forms in Café Müller (which is only ever danced by Bausch's company), in which, for example the grace of the central Sleepwalker is contrasted with the ordinariness of the man who pushes the café chairs out of the way of the second Sleepwalker. Bausch herself plays the first Sleepwalker and there is a moment of supreme beauty when her angular body seems to melt into Purcell's poignant musical phrase 'When I am Laid in Earth', effectively underlining the ghostliness that makes her not quite of this world. Such a fusion for the eye and ear produces a frisson of aesthetic pleasure, yet seems to be entirely in keeping with the subconscious action of a sleepwalker.
"The Green Table and Café Müller"
Dance Now 1, no. 3 (1992): 34-41
Obsessive, mindless self-flagellation takes over in this psychiatric back ward. A man in a rumpled suit (an attendant?) desperately crashes chairs to clear a pathway for an impulse-ridden woman careening through the room. Her kindred spirit, a catatonic male, enters, and another man, a sort of therapist, tries to alter their behavior. Appearing intermittently is a woman in a red fright wig who observes the scene as would a paranoid--agitated, fearful, and mocking. Finally, at the blackout, she makes the leap from her own to the others' bedeviled inner world.
Dance Magazine 58, no. 9 (1984): 28,34-35