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Tanztheater Wuppertaal Pina Bausch

'Bamboo Blues'

by David Mead

June 21, 2012 -- Barbican Theatre, London, UK

Inspired by a visit to Kolkata and her friendship with the late Chandralekha, a pioneer in bringing together the modern and traditional in Indian dance, Pina Bausch’s 2007 “Bamboo Blues” evokes India in brilliant colours. They really are striking, not only in the vibrant blues, magentas, pinks, reds, emerald greens and flaming oranges of the ladies’ ballgowns, but also in the second half projections of palm trees, chhau dancers and Bollywood stills, all of which contrast starkly with Pablo Pabst’s set of sheer white fabric drapes.

As with most of Bausch’s later works, there is a great deal of ‘pure’ dance and a rather more optimistic feel than was present previously. The dance hits you right from the off. A barefoot dancer emerges from the drapes, her long black hair and flowing pink gown billowing in the breeze. What follows is a beautifully fluid solo full of sweeping arms, twists and deep circles. The music, largely a blend of Indian classical sounds and easy going Western songs and blues was a languid as the dance.

It’s the sort of thing we get to see and hear much more of. And therein lays the problem. While it is very beautiful, “Bamboo Blues” is dreadfully one-paced. It is not only contemplative, it is downright dreamy. There is individuality here, but it is all much more subtle than is usually the case. The female solos look similar in movement and feeling and soon start to merge into one. Only Madras-born Shantala Shivalingappa really stood out as bringing a very different body and a very different, and authentic, way of moving to the evening, her dance full of clear references to those bases of Indian dance: kathak and bharatanatyam. The only solo that ratchets things up at all is one to Michael Gordon’s percussive “Weather One”. It might be an industrial score, but it provided some much needed contrast.

The Indian references come thick and fast but seemed rarely to do more than scratch the surface. The ladies did a lot of enigmatic wandering slowly on, stretching out on the floor staring into space. They looked like fashion models posing, but could equally have been people or animals giving way to the heat of the day. Another modelling reference saw men and women dressed in mundus, the traditional Kerala plain white dhoti, and walk slowly across the stage as if on a catwalk, hitching them up in different ways, something Bausch saw across South India, no doubt. Elsewhere a man soaped himself as he bathed outdoors, and a woman took a bucket bath.

There are relative few obvious jokes, which are almost all visual; indeed, it must have been a good 30 minutes before anyone spoke; most unusual in a Bausch evening. When they do come, these tend to be on the thin side. Those involving yoga contortions and ice cream cones at least managed to raise a smile, which is more than can be said for that which saw an Indian call centre operative taking pizza orders for a company in America.

It cannot be denied that this was certainly an evening of Bausch at her most beautiful. The audience gave it the usual standing ovation, although that seems to be an increasingly automatic reaction rather than anything else. For the much of the second half in particular, though, I found my mind trying ever harder to go off on lengthy wanders. This was not so much “Bamboo Blues” as “Bamboo Snooze”.

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