Pina Bausch’s “Bamboo Blues” at BAM

Dancers in Pina Bausch’s Bamboo Blues, photo by Ulli Weiss

Pina Bausch, the director and choreographer of Germany’s Tanztheater Wuppertal, has been fascinated by India for years, and conducted formal research there in 2006 with her company. Bamboo Blues, currently being presented at Brooklyn Academy of Music, is the result of her research. Although the 140-minute piece portrays fragments from Indian culture and daily life, it is not specifically about India, but rather continues Bausch’s exploration of the human experience. Sensual movement and images, combined with vignettes that depict a range of emotions, form a rich and visually stunning work for the fifteen men and women.

White curtains billow at the back of the stage throughout the piece, creating a gentle yet vibrant set. The dancers emerge unexpectedly to reveal a variety of scenes that are humorous, somber, violent, playful, or thoughtful. Several women, wearing long dresses of different colors, carefully fold white sheets; a man bathes with a bucket of soapy water while two other men are surrounded by smoke or steam (it’s hard to tell), which could be a steam bath or a smoky village; a man and woman rock gently on a bamboo bed while another woman sleeps on top of a man, covering him with her satin pink dress; a man in a tacky yellow dress states that the color yellow is bright and “a curry color”; a group of men are approached by a woman wearing an elephant’s head, but they carry on without noticing. Many of these scenes seem to reflect the changing pace of life in India – calm can shift to chaos in an instant, and vice versa. A woman wearing a blindfold is tossed about by several men, violently at times, even though she seems to be smiling and laughing. In the next moment, a man walks peacefully and calmly across the stage, balancing several branches on his head and arms. Bausch excels at portraying both the self-aware, meditative individual and the social, interactive person.

Shantala Shivalingappa in Bamboo Blues, photo by Ulli Weiss

Bamboo Blues includes classical and contemporary Indian music, and projections ranging from Bollywood images to a tropical forest to a traditional Indian dance. With the exception of a few Indian-inspired arm gestures (delicately articulated by Shantala Shivalingappa in a solo), the movement mainly reflects Bausch’s vocabulary. The dancers use their torsos, arms, and necks to thrash about – with the women often whipping their heads, creating a mesmerizing effect with their long hair – much more than their lower bodies. It is easier to distinguish the women from one another than the men, who often seem interchangeable or only present to assist or hinder the women. In fact, the piece depicts male aggression, which Bausch has addressed in other works as well. In one of the more chilling scenes, a woman removes her dress straps and a man violently smudges red paint across her chest as if slicing her neck. Interestingly, she allows him to continue doing this until another man scoops her up and carries her off stage.

The projections, costumes, and even the women’s flowing hair are integral to the work. It would not have the same dreamy, fluid quality without them. In the second half, the white curtains are projected onto the floor, creating an even lusher environment. A tropical forest is layered on top of this while a man moves another curtain back and forth across the stage. The effect is beautiful, allowing the audience to catch glimpses of a woman who appears to be dancing in the midst of the forest and curtains. Bamboo Blues is not a linear, plot-driven work. Rather, it offers myriad episodes – covering a broad array of emotions – that are the result of Bausch’s research in India. These, along with the images and imaginative set, create a striking and memorable addition to Bausch’s repertoire.

Bamboo Blues will be performed this Friday and Saturday at 7:30 PM. Order tickets online or call 718-636-4100.

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2 Responses to Pina Bausch’s “Bamboo Blues” at BAM

  1. This was one of the more disappointing performances I have been to all year. If it had been a high school, or maybe college production, at least I wouldn’t have felt so ripped off. I mean 55 bucks for an unmixed sound track, distorted projection, and cheesy crowd interaction isn’t exactly my idea of money well spent.
    Maybe Pina should have taken this show to Floridian retirement homes. At least there the low key, boring music, coupled with the repetitive movement and easy on the eyes set would have appealed to the high blood pressure residents suffering from Alzheimer’s. But this is New York, and to keep my attention you need to do a little better.
    At least present some authentic Indian texture without making it seem out of place surrounded by ridiculous goofs like roller-blading men and huge Elephant costume heads. It was embarrassing.
    Shows like this are good for one thing: distracting me just enough to clear my mind and allow for personal creative thought and reflection.
    So, thanks for that Pina. If nothing else, your boring show may yield some creativity after all.

  2. mariano cirino says:

    Yaniv, you have no heart. Well, that’s good to become a critic master.

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