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Pina Bausch Wuppertal Tanztheater

'Bamboo Blues'

by Dr. Tom Ferraro

December 13, 2008 -- Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn

To review a Pina Bausch piece is like being asked to analyze a dream. Dreams use primary process thinking with fragments, odd and disjointed images. When you first experience a Bausch piece, as in a dream, it doesn’t seem to make much sense. 

The Tanztheater Wuppertal performance of “Bamboo Blues” had its New York run at BAM’s Next Wave Festival from Dec 11-20th, 2008. As I walked through the lobby, I could see it was another Pina Bausch sellout performance. And who was standing there right in the middle of the lobby but a smiling and laughing Mikhail Baryshnikov surrounded by a few young beauties. Yes indeed, I was in the right place. I often wonder why so many come to see a Bausch show. Surely her dancers are a far cry from the awesome perfectionism that was Baryshnikov in his prime. It can’t be classical perfection that we seek from her. We will see.

The lights go out and the fun begins. The first movement is so gorgeous and so funny that I will describe it in detail. Out saunter five tall female dancers dressed in beautiful silk evening gowns: one all orange, the next red, the next cobalt blue, the next white. They slowly come to center stage and position themselves for what could be a Vanity Fair cover shot. The glamour and sexuality is oozing from these creatures, except for one small thing. They are all chewing gum. Jaws moving slowly up and down, kind of like cows. Very, very strange indeed. The next movement is even more riveting. Pairs of female dancers, then pairs of male dancers simply walk diagonally across stage toward the audience. They are all dressed in kerala saris and mundus (those white Indian cotton dresses). That sounds harmless enough, does it not? But as these gorgeous and handsome creatures slowly make their way across stage, they elegantly fold, then unfold their saris to reveal various glimpses of flesh underneath. Nothing sexual really, but so tantalizing that the audience is mesmerized by it.

And so the evening goes. One movement follows the next with no apparent meaning or order to it all. Like all great artists, Bausch steals liberally from others: the lady corpse held on high from “Serenade”; the Shen Wei chalk on the floor move that we got to see during the Opening Ceremonies at the Olympics. She gives us her usual violent, anguished duets; a dream sequence where the dreamer yells, “I was dreaming that I was flying… flying and cleaning my floors… flying and vacuuming”; an amazing performance by the classical Indian dancer Shantala Shivalingappa; a guy taking pizza orders; a woman running swiftly with a blindfold on; and a Chinese dancer with blood on her bare chest. Sounds confusing does it not?

It is easy to fall into the usual post-modern theory to explain Bausch where she is merely expressing our fragmentation, our meaninglessness, our isolation and our exhaustion. But I think Bausch has been changing. “Bamboo Blues” went beyond the majestic despair of her classic “Palermo, Palermo.” This piece was clearly a love poem to India. The use of its music, its soft billowing fabrics, its heat, its chaotic change, and its speed. She was there for perhaps a year together with her beautiful dancers. She found the best and the worst of the land and converted it into something beautiful and fun.

They say the artist’s job is to embrace the world’s despair and to overcome it for us. This is what moves us, and why we need our artists. This is exactly what Bausch does with every country she enters. Bausch is the world’s first truly international choreographer. No boundaries and no limits. Baryshnikov may have changed countries, but Bausch is trying to change the world. They say she is political, but she is more psychological.  She is trying to embrace all our post-modern despair, chaos, and multiculturalism and transform it with play, humor, love, and beauty. She is clearly the best there is at her craft. She has single handedly created a new genre called dance/theater.  But I think her real gift is her ability to face the world’s sadness and make it more tolerable for us.  If you have never seen a Bausch performance, put it on your list of things to do. Pina Bausch is this world’s post-modern wonder.

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