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Jack Anderson

Pina Bausch in India

Next Wave Festival
Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: "Bamboo Blues"
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
30 Lafayette Avenue, Fort Greene, Brooklyn
December 11-13, 16, 17, 19, 20 at 7:30 p.m., December 14 at 3 p.m.; $85, $75, $55, $25
Tickets: (718) 636-4100 or www.BAM.org
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, December 19, 2008

Damiano Ottavio Bigi and Tsai Chin Yu in "Bamboo Blues" . Photo by Richard Termine.

Breezes always blow in India, usually gentle ones, for India can be a pleasant place. That's what Pina Bausch seems to believe, judging from "Bamboo Blues," the latest of the travelogues she has choreographed for her Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch. Once again, she has made a country her troupe has visited the basis for an idiosyncratic evocation of a foreign land that appears to be inspired by dreams and fancies, as well as hard facts.

Although Bausch completed "Bamboo Blues" last year, long before the recent hotel bombings, India has always known unrest. But Bausch downplays it. The way her dancers swirl about, often in bright sarongs and skirts by Marion Cito, suggests a warm climate, and everyone's ease hints that the warm weather seldom grows oppressive. Peter Pabst has designed a rippling fabric wall on which projections appear, including images of gods, people who may be Bollywood film stars and, at the end of each of the two acts, lush vegetation. The accompanying taped musical potpourri is easy on the ears.

So, too, most of the choreography is easy on the eyes. Bodies ripple along with the fabrics. Feet either step nimbly or glide smoothly, while upper bodies curve and circle. Phrase follows phrase in rapid succession, yet with little sense of strain. And although India has crowded cities, there are few ensembles, and much of the choreography consists of solos and duets. It seems easy to be at ease in Pina Bausch's India, a country her choreography often makes look gorgeous.

However, there are some hints that all may not be totally well, as when two women try to set fire to a man's foot; still, he doesn't appear to mind very much. Some hurtling men could be caught up in either thunderstorms or political provocations, and there is an ominous pursuit of women by men. A few characters and scenes also attest to Bausch's sense of comic grotesquerie: among them, a depiction of a day's routine at a fast-food ordering service and a conversation between human beings and an elephant-headed figure no one treats as out of the ordinary.

Damiano Ottavio Bigi and Thusnelda Mercy in "Bamboo Blues" . Photo by Richard Termine. 

Despite its striking moments, "Bamboo Blues" bothered me. Bausch's travelogues can easily grow superficial. Thus the lushness of "Bamboo Blues" kept reminding me of the lushness of "Nefés," the tribute to Istanbul she presented in 2006. But are Istanbul and India all that similar? I'll let the pundits harrumph over Bausch's political and social ideas. What bothers me is that her travelogues may be growing monotonous.

In the past, Bausch created so much more: for instance, her often controversial bitter social commentaries and her remarkable interpretations of classical music, including her versions of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" and Bartok's "Bluebeard's Castle." Her stagings of Gluck operas are unknown to New York, yet I greatly admired her "Orfeo" when I saw it in Wuppertal three decades ago.

So I wonder, is Pina Bausch falling into a rut? Have her travelogues become facile? Her company should certainly continue touring the world, for she's a major artist and audiences should see her. But, perhaps, instead of seeking some new and exotic place as the locale for her next production, she should think about what life may be like today back home in Wuppertal.


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