Rolf Borzik was born in Poznan, Poland, in 1944. In the following year his father died and the family moved to Detmold in central Germany where he began school. In 1957 they moved to Aerdenhout in the Netherlands but Borzik returned to Germany to obtain his school-leaving certificate. For a while he alternated between the two countries; in 1963 he began an apprenticeship at a graphics firm in Detmold then studied drawing and portraiture under the Dutch painter Poppe de Maar in Haarlem. From 1963 to 1966 he continued his education by studying painting in Amsterdam and Paris, before taking courses in graphics and design at the Folkwang School in Essen in 1967.
Here he met Pina Bausch. They soon hit it off and from 1970 onwards they lived together. When, three years later, Pina Bausch was appointed head of dance at the Wuppertal theatres by director Arno Wüstenhöfer, Rolf Borzik began designing the sets and costumes. They formed a congenial partnership. They both agreed that the stylisations typical at the time were not appropriate for the new dance theatre pieces, which needed to be anchored firmly in reality. At the same the scenography needed to open up free, poetic spheres for the audience, allowing room for their own associations. Staying close to reality was something Pina Bausch had learned from Ausdruckstanz, or 'expressive dance', practiced by her teacher Kurt Jooss at the Folkwang School. This proximity to reality now had to be redefined, however. Borzik worked with her at Wuppertal right from the start, on the productions Fritz and Iphigenia in Tauris – a Gluck opera. The designs were very different; closer to everyday life for Fritz, reduced to essentials for Iphigenia in Tauris, which was followed in 1975 by a further Gluck production.
It was already clear what their idea of set design involved; via an economy of means, allowing space only for that which was really needed, they aimed to draw the gaze to the intensity of the actions. As if by accident, they created a new genre, the 'dance opera', integrating dancers and singers into the action on stage with equal weight. If it wasn't clear already how serious they were about purging their expressive means, this became explicit with the three-part evening Frühlingsopfer (The Rite of Spring). The first part, Wind from West, was earnest and pensive; the second, Der zweite Frühling (The Second Spring) humorous. Transparent curtains of gauze divided up spaces of memory: a few sparse pieces of furniture created a reference to everyday life. The climax of the evening was Pina Bausch's choreography for Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps. Borzik ripped the stage free, right back to the firewalls, and covered it with a thick layer of peat, making the dancers' moves harder. The men wore simple black trousers, their torsos naked; the women wore short diaphanous tunics. The composition's libretto is based on a legend from pagan Russia; its transportation to the present day is brutal, with a direct physical presence. The dancers do not indicate; they dance out of pure desperation as if their lives depend on it. This was different from anything previously seen on a dance stage. The evening demonstrated the two basic directions Borzik would take his scenography in the following years: on the one hand playing with elements of nature, on the other with references to everyday life. Borzik proved a versatile working partner with whom Pina Bausch could also discuss the entire thematic and dramaturgical issues. He helped imagine and devise these pieces - which were steadily forming a new genre - right from their inner germ. This greatly exceeded the normal duties of a set designer. Frontiers were being crossed in Wuppertal, not just clearly-defined genres. One of the premises was that everyone brought their whole person to the work. It gave birth to a new concept of dance, beyond routine and beyond specialisation.
In 1976, for the two-part Brecht/Weill evening Die sieben Todsünden (The Seven Deadly Sins), Borzik made a cast of a Wuppertal street and used this as the stage floor. The protagonists, Anna I and Anna II are literally out on the street, as described in their story. The dancers wear black suits and colourful summer dresses, city shoes and high heels. Everything which takes place is within our grasp. By the second half the men are wearing dresses too. This serves to highlight the constraints imposed by gender roles, without looking like drag. Bausch's version of Bela Bartók's opera Duke Bluebeard's Castle takes place in a larger-than-life nineteenth-century living room, its floor strewn with autumn leaves in which the dancers' actions leave their traces. On top of their everyday clothes they put on resplendent garments from the treasure trove – quotations from a fallen world. The clothes are like skins which they draw over themselves but which fail to hide their essential fears. The central prop is a trolley with a tape recorder from which the music is controlled, repeatedly played back in fragments. Almost as an afterthought, dance theatre also reflects the theatre itself, as a site of illusion and of enforced exhibition. Komm, tanz mit mir (Come dance with me), from 1977 makes further quotations from nature. The stage, strewn with dead branches and twigs which the dancers are continually forced to deal with, is curved up towards the back wall to create a steep slide. At the end a heavy tree falls from above the stage with a crash. The spaces Borzik created for dance theatre are always physical, never decorative. They alter the dancers' movements, challenging them to take action. They demand effort and at the same time create poetic ruptures. Renate wandert aus (Renate emigrates), created in the same year with the subtitle "An Operetta", takes place in a fantasy ice landscape, although the dancers' lightweight clothing hardly seems appropriate to the frosty atmosphere of the piece. These contrasts cause us to stumble, and make us alert; deliberate displacements referring to something else. Because Pina Bausch's pieces rarely stick with a consistent place and time, the designer is free to overstep reality, entering a free space of imagination. The pieces seek two things: on the one hand to confront us with everyday anxieties, and on the other to offer a space for desires, dreams and hopes.
Bausch and Borzik's radical take on Shakespeare's Macbeth, Er nimmt sie an der Hand und führt sie in das Schloss, die andern folgen (He takes her by the hand and leads her into the castle, the others follow) was premiered in Bochum in 1978 as a guest production at the invitation of Peter Zadek. The stage is transformed into a chaotic playroom, in which the interrelationship between power and guilt is addressed – and robbed of any heroic posturing. The stage floor dips down towards the front; water flows from a garden hose throughout the performance, like a metaphor for the endless elapsing of time. The resultant pool of water becomes a place the performers can throw themselves into, as if guilt could be washed off, as if they were swimming for their lives. The props seem simple, yet have their own particular sophistication; they succeed because they are closely tied to the content of the piece. Two further pieces emerged from Wuppertal in the same year. Café Müller, mostly performed together with Sacre du Printemps, was a very personal statement. Pina Bausch and Rolf Borzik both appeared in the piece. While Pina danced like a sleepwalker through the coffee house furnished with round tables and old chairs, her eyes shut, her partner Rolf dragged the furniture out of her way at the last minute so that she did not hurt herself. One helps the other to realise their life's dreams; cleared obstacles out of the way. The hectic, clattering shifting of the furniture forms an acute contrast to the soft, melancholic Purcell arias. In Kontakthof, dance theatre offers us dance lessons in a ballroom. Chairs are lined up around the white walls, along with an old piano; on the far wall a screen has been installed, like a stage within a stage. Yet again this is a space of memory, in which the marks left by childhood and the desires felt in the present can be explored. This time the clothes are extremely elegant; the players have dressed up. But they still cannot disguise their fears.
For Arien (Arias) in 1979, Borzik returned to the water idea from the Macbeth project and expanded it dramatically; the entire stage of the Wuppertal opera house, open right to the firewalls, was ankle-deep in water. The opera has been flooded. Sometimes all that can be heard are the dancers' steps in the water; sometimes it rains. Despite the elegant evening wear, the anticipated party does not happen. The atmosphere is sorrowful, as if after a heavy loss. Pina Bausch wanted a hippopotamus for this piece, who would stomp ponderously through the scenery – in search of love. Animals – real or copied – were to play a role in future pieces too. They represent nature, but not only the quasi 'external'; they also represent the inner nature of feelings. In the works of dance theatre they take on a kind of mute witnessing role. They seem to remain in a state of enviable innocence, unaffected by the comings and goings of human passions. Nothing can drive them away it seems. Unlike the human beings, they approach their world without question and thus without worry either. The human beings, on the other hand, possessing knowledge of themselves and of the world, are excluded from this paradisiacal condition. The animals are a reminder that they themselves have to reinstate the happiness of being at one with themselves and the world. They have been cast out of paradise and if this happiness exists at all, it can only be found in the future. Following Arien, in 1979, Pina Bausch and Rolf Borzik were to create only one further production together. In Keuschheitslegende (Legend of Chastity) the floor is painted with a sea which the dancers roll across using sofas and armchairs on casters. The effect is of a 'sea of passions' which the players explore with lust and humour. Enormous crocodiles walk around between them, as if eroticism and sexuality were also dangerous.
Rolf Borzik died in January 1980 at the age of thirty-six, but in the seven years he worked together with Pina Bausch in Wuppertal he succeeded in giving dance theatre an unmistakable face. He created sets which capture the chronology of the events on stage – countering their ephemerality and their transience. By the end of the performance the scene of events has been altered, just as, conversely, the dancers often carry traces of the sets' materials. The relationship between humans and objects becomes visible; it is possible to gain a sensual understanding and experience of humans in the concrete dimensions of time and space. These are spaces which mark out traces of time: spaces in motion rather than static, unchangeable backdrops. They mark out the daily drama of existence precisely. Thus they are spaces to counter forgetting and the passing of time. At the same time they open themselves encouragingly to the audience's imagination; these poetic signs remind us that anything is possible, even things we have never yet seen and had not yet thought of.
Following Borzik's death Marion Cito took over costume and Peter Pabst set design. They continue to extend the trajectories of this imaginative work - exuberant and at the same time disciplined - into the future. Their creativity flows from the same wellspring.