Art Catch: Bamboo Blues

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12/16/2008 1:30 PM |

Art Catch is a weekly online column by The L‘s Patricia Milder

It would be a mistake to interpret the connections between any of Pina Bausch’s dreamy, smooth compositions that flow together seamlessly as anything other than perfectly planned. She doesn’t so much read your mind as create images on the stage that influence thoughts through color and movement, then precisely responds to those thoughts.

My favorite instance of this happened halfway through the second act of Bamboo Blues, when the black floor reappeared all white. White silky, billowing fabrics that hung from the ceiling highlighted the bright color-coded (by this I mean the woman in the red dress is fierce, the woman in the pale pink dress is soft and moves like butter) dresses on the female dancers. Bausch’s gorgeous, strong, and stoically masculine male dancers were, in contract, wearing messily un-tucked black suits or white wrap-around fabrics, with few exceptions.

Just as I was thinking about the extremes of this contrast between the sexes (and as I found out later my color-oriented friend was pondering the blatant exception of the yellow on stage) a man walked out in a bright yellow dress and said with innocent enthusiasm and a heavy accent something along the lines of "yellow, it’s bright, it’s the color of strength and courage. It’s even the color of curry," with characteristic Bauschian humor. The solo that followed, when another male dancer came out in a full, flowing white dress with a pink flower pattern, was not drag by any means. It was a display of purity – of moving body, flowing fabric, and poise; the kind of display that stays with you, competing in your daydreams only with those other unbearably lovely moments of the performance.

Pina Bausch and her troupe, Tanztheater (dance theater) Wuppertal Pina
Bausch, traveled to India this year to research the inspiration for
Bamboo Blues. Last year’s Nefes was inspired by Turkey, where they
group also traveled together, but both pieces are more Bausch, more everyday,
more relationship and emotion driven than they are studies in location.
The colors, smells, food and culture of both places resonate as
feelings and dreams rather than literal depictions. The spectacle of
Nefes – the pouring rain on stage, the hammam, the color – is not
absent in Bamboo Blues, but it is more subdued.

The complaint against Bausch this time around is that she sometimes enters too
polished perfume ad territory, which is a fair critique in the sense
that gritty isn’t a word you’d use to describe her work. But with a simple 2 by 2 diagonal march across
stage in heels, wrapping and unwrapping sari-inspired fabrics, her
dancers put you in a trance (the Indian/electronic music helps) and
manage to hold a space that is both aggressive and amusing, and simply,
appealingly on beat. There’s nothing vacuous about the romantic and
painful tableaux: a smiling couple lay, exquisite, on a flat bed that
rolls back and forth over two bamboo poles; a woman in a red dress
dunks her head in a bucket of water until an man comes from offstage to
pull her out.

Anyone looking for straight narratives or strict interpretations of
India will be confused, but what Bausch does is so much better. From
Bollywood to traditional dance, references are made, but they are well
digested, and they don’t need to make sense. That’s not the point. In
an interview with Dance Teacher, Bausch said, "the co-productions
always have something to do with certain countries or cities. In Italy
we are busy with the whole culture of Italy or certain people you meet
or normal life, or whatever. But otherwise, it’s just – life is there
and we are there. And that’s it. I try to make visible what we all

It’s probably clear by now that I’m a fan – if Bausch is selling, I’m
buying, thank you very much – but there’s a reason this enigmatic
choreographer has a cult following like no one else creating work right
now. There are a number of ways to get to know her – Pedro Almodovar’s
Talk to Her is one – but Bamboo Blues is running until the 14th and it
is an exceptional production. If it’s sold out, find a scalper. It’s worth it.

Pina Bausch: Bamboo Blues
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Ave
through December 14