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Pina Bausch's "Vollmond"; Shantala Shivalingapa's "Gamaka"

by Paul Ben-Itzak
September 20, 2010
Brooklyn Academy of Music
30 Lafayette Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11217
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Bausch beached
PARIS — When I saw Pina Bausch's "Vollmond," opening at the Brooklyn Academy of Music September 29, in its Paris premiere at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt in June 2007, I was coming off fresh audience assaults by another giant of European dance, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, who in two successive programs at the same theater managed to attack, respectively (or rather disrespectfully) the eardrums and the lungs of the audience, by over-amped speakers and an over-enthusiastic chalk machine. So I was not in a good place to receive the aural assualt that closed Bausch's 2006 piece, in the form of over-amped, eardrum-splitting generic rock 'n' roll. I even felt it necessary, after I'd mounted the aisle and pushed open the exit doors when I couldn't take it any more, to pause at the threshold of Bernhardt's dressing room long enough to say "Sorry Sarah," that the dramatic bombast with which the Divine One made this theater's name had been replaced this night by pure bombast.

Sonic violence isn't the only reason the enthusiasm of this inveterate Pina Bausch devotee is tepid for this particular show. Along with her three prior works, it had relied more on the native talents of Bausch's Tanztheater Wuppertal performers than her own kinetic invention.

For sure, before Bausch sunk her ship, some amusing moments promenaded and even swam through Peter Pabst's rain-soaked set, as when a woman tested two men (consecutively) on the time it took them to unstrap her bra. (Okay, doesn't sound funny when I write it, but the timing of the performers, as is often the case with the Tanztheater Wuppertal personnel, made it so.) But more often than not, we'd seen it before, and often on the same people: Nazareth Panadero's talky (if somewhat reigned in here) vamp, Dominique Mercy's sad clown…. (Mercy now co-directs the company of the late Bausch.) And the movement frequently seemed more extracted from the interpreter's ethnic background or particular training than from one consistent choreographic plan. And there, perhaps (apart from the ear burn) is the rub: It used to be that even the most disparate non-sequiturs chez Pina amounted to a symphony; now it was just cacophony.

I guess it would be too much to expect for BAM — which, despite calling its annual festival "Next Wave," traditionally plays it pretty safe compared to its European counterparts — to follow the example of the Theatre de la Ville and skip right to Pina's last piece. But let's just hope it will encourage the company to come back with more solid work from Bausch's vast oeuvre, and thus help ensure the company's long-term survival, and thus the perpetuation of the seminal oeuvre of this most influential of choreographers.

I used to avoid concerts featuring Indian dance forms — not because I didn't enjoy them, but because I didn't feel qualified to review them. These forms take life-long study to learn; who am I to issue a critique? But somtimes Wuppertal dancer Shantala Shivalingappa, past, present, and future master of the kuchipudi school of classical Indian dance, has lessons for dancers and dance viewers in every genre. In "Gamaka," which I saw shortly after "Vollmond," at the Theatre de la Ville's Montmartre space, les Abbesses, Shivalingappa reveals herself as the most centered dancer in the world, at least that I've ever seen, not to mention one of the most precise. By centered, I don't mean just that she's balanced or displays equilibrium, but that whichever part of her body is the focus of the movement at the moment, all the others retain their fine articulation and control. So when she leans forward and seems to be directing our vision towards an angled elbow or sculpting fingers, we could find the same minute control in the space between her waist and hip.

But Shivalingappa also paints broadly, describing planes stretching from a shoulder to a hand, a toe all the way up to her head. or simply a wingspan.

Even the things that sometimes seem artificial or overdone to me in Indian dance — shifting eyes, or pantomiming a conversation with an invisible partner — blend into the integrity of the dance because the dancer (here, also the choreographer) reduces them.

I won't say she exactly 'blends' with the music; rather she is on its rhythm, virtuosically (and sometimes drolly) delivered by B.P. Haribabu, J. Ramesh, N. Ramakrishnan, and K.S. Jayaram.

The only tip I would have for Shantala Shivalingappa is to lose the one gimmick she briefly employs; a sort of pan in which she places both feet and slides along. This is one dancer who doesn't need props.

(This piece was originally published, in slightly different form, on the Dance Insider.)
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