Me and the Bamboo Blues: Coming to Terms with Pina Bausch
I can't say I've seen every one of Pina Bausch's extravaganzas that she's brought to the Brooklyn Academy of Music over the years. But I've seen a lot of them, and "Bamboo Blues," the latest, is the best Bausch for a very long time.
This is good and bad. Good, because it's good. But bad, because it means that many of her more recent shows have fallen victim to repetitiveness. Like Laurie Anderson, who is thrilling the first time you encounter her but whose performances seem to repeat themselves in mood and format and technical trickery, Bausch's mannerisms had begun to grate. You even had to wonder if she herself had grown tired of them. A sequence of skit-like numbers strung along a loose theme with an exotic set and quasi-zombie dancers staring you down with heavy-handed irony.
"Bamboo Blues" sort of fits that pattern, but there are bracing differences. First, the choreography is far more energetic and fluid than usual. Second, there are a host of striking young dancers from all over the world who really DANCE, as opposed to acting morbid and droll. Third, the loose theme -- India, and in particular the strongly Hindu tropical India of the south, along with a requisite dollop of Bollywood -- is nicely exotic, augmented by some beautiful curtains and projections. Fourth, and by no means least, the music is just terrific. Cut after cut of arresting, often Indian-flavored international pop with an edge, all played on a sumptuous, highly directional sound system.
Bausch has often seemed eager to undercut emotion with parody or kookiness. There is some of that here, as in the gum-chewing, evening-gown-clad beauties who pose langorously to set the scene. Sometimes it's amusing, sometimes disruptive.
But what is here, more than ever, is romance and sex. Many of the couples, and couplings, have a real charge to them, and the virtuosic choreography and dancing, full of leaps and flying jumps and sinuous entanglements, only reinforces the erotic aura.
Like most Bausch evenings, this one goes on a little long. Some might complain that apart from a few highlights the shorter second act doesn't so much build on the first act as protract it. Yet I found myself consistently engrossed, a true test of which is looking at your watch and being surprised at how much time has passed. "Bamboo Blues" plays through Saturday, and it's eine Reise wert, as we might say in Bausch's home base of Wuppertal: worth a trip.
For an ongoing conversation and news reports about arts journalism, go to the blog of the National Arts Journalism Program, here.
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