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Flash Review, 7-3: On the road to Calcutta & Kerala
Pina Bausch listens to the 'Bamboo Blues'

By Laurie Uprichard
Copyright 2008 Laurie Uprichard

PARIS -- Lush is the word that first comes to mind when considering Pina Bausch's latest work, "Bamboo Blues," which had its French premiere at the Théatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt on June 16 and which comes to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in December. The intense music, the saturated colors of the women's dresses, the film of a rich green bamboo forest (with visible power lines letting us know that civilization is nearby) that runs across a mid-stage curtain just before the intermission and at the end of the piece all invoke the tropical side of India. Bausch's two residencies there with visual designer and video maker Peter Pabst and some of her Tanztheater Wuppertal company, in Calcutta and Kerala, were the inspiration for this work. Pina Bausch is a maximalist.

Winds (backstage fans, brought onstage at one point to dispel the magic, were there any) ripple the white curtains upstage as the opening soloist (Silvia Farias) swirls, swoops, and spirals around the stage; off balance, she floats on or pushes into the wind. A stunning mover, Farias dances in a pale pink costume that contrasts with the deep colors of the long dresses worn by the other women, who enter and strike a pose center stage that could have come straight from a National Geographic photo of a group of tigers.

White sheets with blue stripes around the edges are brought out, whipped up into the air, and precisely folded. These sheets reappear as saris for the women and wrapped skirts for the men, all of whom later take a runway walk in same sex pairs on the long diagonal of the stage in an odd sort of fashion show.

In the midst of Act I, the winds pick up and the men's bodies seem to be tossing on waves. Bausch conjures the memory of the tsunami of December 2004. There is also a universal Bausch theme as, one after another, the women fall to the floor through the arms of the men who, though they appear to try, cannot really protect them. Water, as usual in a Bausch work, makes its appearance. A woman dips her hair into a bucket and whips her head back -- over and over again. A series of tricks are played (though none involving snakes rising out of a basket), in one of which a woman pours a glass of water from a pitcher into her glass and then into her companion's; in his, the water turns red as soon as it enters the glass. She then pours the contents of both back into the carafe. The water is clear.

According to the program note by Jean-Marc Adolphe, Bausch spent some of her time in India with Chandralekha, a pioneer in the field of women's rights and a force in creating a contemporary classical Indian dance. (Her work was seen most recently in the U.S. at Jacob's Pillow and at Danspace Project in 1994, and as part of Next Wave at BAM in 1998; she died at the end of December 2007.) Shantala Shivalingappa, who has performed with Bausch since 2003, is also a highly trained kuchipudi dancer. In "Bamboo Blues," Bausch gives her a solo in which bharata natyam vocabulary is deconstructed and abstracted to lovely effect.

Throughout "Bamboo Blues," the emotionality of the work takes its cue from the varying selections of music -- some pop tunes from Bollywood movies (the upstage scrim at the top of Act II is filled with a larger-than-life publicity shot of a Bollywood couple), contemporary composers including Michael Gordon of Bang on a Can, and some serious blues from Alice Coltrane.

While "Bamboo Blues" is structured around serial solos, like many Bausch works, there is more variation than in the 2004 "Nefes." The interspersed group sections, some of which are task-oriented, display a broader movement vocabulary. The overall sensibility of this work is also happier, even amorous. Though the Le Monde critic dismissed this formula as having run out of steam, I found that the kaleidoscopic structure held. While there are no transitions or segues from scene to scene, the sum of the whole was quite coherent, a lovely impressionistic, vicarious trip to India.

Laurie Uprichard is the artistic director of the Dublin Dance Festival. She was formerly executive director of Danspace Project in New York.

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