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Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch - Bamboo Blues

by Rajika Puri
December 16, 2008
Brooklyn Academy of Music
30 Lafayette Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11217
(718) 636-4111
www.pina-bausch.de

www.rajikapuri.com
For a Pina Bausch fan, to sit through one of her more recent pieces is to watch a master at play - not unlike Shakespeare in Cymbeline. At times there is breathtaking poetry, at others we hear lines that don't 'scan well'. Transported from one scene to another we're not always clear of the connection, and are often preoccupied with eliciting deeper meaning in superficially bizarre moments. Yet, always, one is conscious of a breadth of vision, a generosity of spirit, and of sheer whimsy.

Bamboo Blues is the most recent of a series of works developed by Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in different countries, more specifically in Asia: Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Turkey and, now, India. "It's impossible to do a piece about India, impossible," says Ms Bausch, who had previously toured India in '79 and '94 and has had a long-time love for the country. "What do we know about India?" So instead of trying to tell us about India, she has her company develop a work interspersed by movement images & choreographed vignettes many of which have their inspiration in something they experienced in India.

The spine of the work, however, is a series of beautiful solo dances that don't seem to have anything to do with India per se but which are wonderful examples of something Ms. Bausch does know about – free-flowing movement. The first of these, performed mesmerizingly by the fluid-limbed Silvia Farias, is thematic. Not only is it reprised just before intermission and again at the end, but its elements re-appear in other dances. Swathed like her fellow women soloists in a jewel-coloured ball gown, she twists and twirls as she moves, long hair trailing in her wake. You do not see her legs as she floats across the stage; it is her arms that seem to lead, compelling her through space before she falls effortlessly to the ground amid folds of billowing silk.

Throughout the evening we are treated to choreographic gems – including some spectacular dancing by men (they are costumed in simple white shirts and black trousers). Often floor-bound, they move as sinuously as the women. There are also, as in many of Ms. Bausch's recent works, duets which express the violent – and humorous - underpinnings of male-female relations. There are leaps into men's arms, women dragged along the floor, and other moments which astound both because they comment on the human estate and because they are so perfectly executed.

The evening is, however, dominated – even upstaged - by the many vignettes that clearly refer to India. Some of these are almost clichés: a woman putting on a sari, a call center operator taking pizza orders, two Bollywood film stars emoting melodramatically amidst 'gusts of wind' fanned up by a couple of production stage hands. Others are very clever, such as when same-sex pairs walk diagonally downstage as if on a cat-walk, tying and re-draping an everyday version of the sarong worn by south-Indian males. The 'dipping movement' which captures the way it is hitched up to knee length (before embarking on any task that requires freedom of leg movement) is hilarious. The precision with which each pair co-ordinates its variations is awesome.

Many such sequences permit multiple interpretations. A striking moment during which several women who seem to be masticating something (could it be betel nut leaves, the chewing gum of India?) recline on their elbows and stare at the audience, has been severally interpreted as "bored courtesans surveying prospective clients", "a National Geographic photo of a group of tigers", and (this one I believe is correct) "an assemblage of cows, chewing cud!".

At times like this one wonders if Ms Bausch toying with us, teasing us into a guessing game as to the significance or origin of a vignette. "Why did those two women hold cigarette lighters under the man's feet?" "Who was that woman who repeatedly dowsed her face in a red plastic bucket of water?" "Were those sarongs tied as cravats meant to represent the globalization of India, or simply to delight in the signature neckwear of "The King of Bollywood"?

Those who search for deeper social significance in the piece will, however, not only be disappointed but shortchange themselves, because, as in the past, Ms Bausch offers us an intriguing collage of moments to relish for their own sakes. Jorge Puerta walks slowly across the stage balancing tree branches on shoulders, forearms, and wrists. Shantala Shivalingappa plays innovatively with Indian hand gestures. A blue-faced dancer is borne aloft by three of his colleagues. Sarongs are thrown up in the air and then folded as they descend. Surely these images, so dexterously performed, simply invite us to celebrate the multifarious variety – and whimsical nature - of being human?

Ms Bausch has been making dance-theater pieces for thirty-four years. Nineteen of her works have been presented at BAM's Next Wave Festival since 1984. Her extraordinary thirty member company – of whom only 15 plus, guest artist Ms. Shivalingappa, are featured in Bamboo Blues – maintains most of her works in repertory, touring internationally throughout the year. Physically she is petite, but her stature in enormous. And when she ruminates in movement it pays to sit back - and watch with child-like wonder.



Please note that the photos below are all courtesy/copyright BAM, in addition to the specific photographers listed with each photo.
Shantala Shivalingappa, Pablo Aran Gimeno, Damiano Ottavio Bigi, Fernando Suels Mendoza (above), Franko Schmidt

Shantala Shivalingappa, Pablo Aran Gimeno, Damiano Ottavio Bigi, Fernando Suels Mendoza (above), Franko Schmidt

Photo © & courtesy of Richard Termine


Silvia Farias Heredia in her signature solo

Silvia Farias Heredia in her signature solo

Photo © & courtesy of Richard Termine


Thusnelda Mercy, Cristiana Morganti, & Shantala Shivalingappa getting into cud-chewing cows pose, Silvia Farias Heredia (in background)

Thusnelda Mercy, Cristiana Morganti, & Shantala Shivalingappa getting into cud-chewing cows pose, Silvia Farias Heredia (in background)

Photo © & courtesy of Richard Termine


In foreground -Tsai-chin Yu, Eddie Martinez & Anna Wehsarg

In foreground -Tsai-chin Yu, Eddie Martinez & Anna Wehsarg

Photo © & courtesy of Richard Termine


Nayoung Kim & Jorge Puerta Armenta

Nayoung Kim & Jorge Puerta Armenta

Photo © & courtesy of Angelos Giotopoulos


Shantala Shivalingappa playing with gesture

Shantala Shivalingappa playing with gesture

Photo © & courtesy of Ulli Weiss

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