- Bamboo Blues
As a relative newcomer to Pina Bausch’s work, I find it difficult to understand why her earlier oeuvre provoked such negative reactions from audiences and critics alike. I have often left a Tanztheater Wuppertal performance nostalgic for a radicalism experienced only through legend, the odd video clip, or critical scholarship (such as Royd Climenhaga’s Pina Bausch—a recent entry in Routledge’s superb Performance Practitioners series). Interestingly, this is not unlike my longing for the exotic and eroticized locales Bausch conjured in her choreographic travelogues of the past decade. Although not her final creation, Bamboo Blues was the most recent of her works to be presented in the United States prior to her death last June. An exploration of Indian culture and dance, Bamboo Blues, as with Nefes, Ten Chi, Nur Du, Masurca Fogo, and Der Fensterputzer, resulted from an international residency. Altogether, this body of work constitutes a definitive phase in Bausch’s long career, a break from the propensity to shock through disturbing and often violent imagery. Considering that the exhaustion of modern dance was always a major thematic concern, it seems logical that Bausch would seek inspiration from the performance traditions of other cultures. Since she remained interested in exposing the dynamics of social constructs such as the tyranny of gender relations and the oppressiveness of cultural mores, it also makes sense that she would tread more lightly (and less radically) when engaging cultures she could not claim as her own.
Admittedly, part of the pleasure to be derived from Bamboo Blues relies upon indulging what may be described as a flaneur’s eye-view of India. Bausch’s attraction to Indian dance dates back to her company’s tour of Rite of Spring to Calcutta in 1979. She also maintained a friendship with Chandralekha— a pioneer in the hybridization of traditional and modern Indian dance—with whom she collaborated during a tour in 1994 that also included a field research component. As a result, Bamboo Blues distills a range of traditional and modern iconography through Bausch’s trademark amalgam of dance, gesture, mise en scène, and theatrical vignettes.
The choreographer conveyed the juxtaposition of past and present, first and foremost, through movement, punctuating even the most fluidly modern of the dance sequences with mudrās reminiscent of kathakali and bharatanatyam, the ever-evolving bases of classical Indian dance. Clad in a defiantly nontraditional shocking-pink evening gown, Shan-tala [End Page 474]
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Shivalingappa, a leading figure in kuchipudi, a southeastern variant combining intricate footwork and illustrative gesture, performed the most authentic solo. In such contexts, Bauschian motifs and gestural patterns registered as extensions of classical dance codes, while placing into relief the cultural specificity of their ritual origins. When dancers arranged and rearranged their costumes and accessories, for example, it was at once “classic Pina Bausch” and a revelation of the intricacies of Indian garb. As always, her striking tableaux vivants raised the specter of exhibitionism and voyeurism at the base of live performance and, by extension, cultural tourism. Even when tensions between the sexes erupted—such as one sequence in which a woman kept pouncing on her lover’s back to prevent his departure, and another in which a woman repeatedly vaulted off a chair to escape a circle of intoxicated men—they seemed to emanate from a near-compulsive adherence to mating rites deeply rooted in Indian culture.
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The company presented Bamboo Blues in two parts, repeating many sequences from the first half in the second, with scenic and aural variations supporting the contrast between the two parts (and between tradition and modernity) in compelling ways. Peter Pabst’s design initially relied solely on white drapes, which billowed in response to the dancers, and framed Marion Cito’s vibrant loincloths and formalwear. A white dance carpet, unfurled during intermission, accentuated the saturated curtains...