nytheatre.com review by Stan Richardson
December 11, 2008
I am writing this in the hope that you will not make the same mistake that I did. I spent 11 years in New York City before I went to see a piece by Pina Bausch at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I had heard about Bausch—raves, raves, raves—but for some reason, I assumed that her brilliance (which I understood vaguely from the gushing words of both people I admired and people I did not) would have a kind of trickle-down effect. So when, in December of 2006, I saw Nefes, her Istanbul-inspired work at BAM, I finally got it—exactly why a Bausch show is unmissable: because she is an entire theatrical education is two-and-a-half hours.
Bamboo Blues is inspired by her own visits to India and her company Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch's residency there in 2006, but the relationship is more suggested than literally seen—the soundtrack and costumes are evocative of India (or I guess I should say "recognizable" to my Western eyes), and there is a specific moment devoted to the scent of cardamom. But the athletic, witty, and wan choreography—like that of Nefes—told me less about a specific culture and more about the Human Condition.
Maybe "Human Conditions" is a better way of putting it as Bausch, a visionary not an evangelist, is endlessly crystallizing and re-crystallizing our social status, our emotional states, the ways we acclimate ourselves to the world, resulting in hilarious, beautiful and tragic contortions. And while her departure points become immediately identifiable, her destinations are always a surprise, even it seems to the dancers themselves. She is a master of style: reinventing the tropes and gestures she herself has made familiar. Ever aware of an audience's expectations, she does not manipulate, but instead moves beyond all obvious outcomes to find the strikingly odd and seemingly inevitable solutions to her mind-bending dance-dilemmas.
And her dancers never forget they are being watched, often turning out and regarding the audience with unblinking agenda-less eyes. They make their entrances and exits—strolling, sprinting, spinning, sauntering—with purpose, but without portent or pomp. We can never quite say what they are up to: soloists multiply in the blink of an eye and suddenly there's a score of performers in unified movement, giving way to chaos which resolves in a couple enacting a wordless comic vignette straight from some awful Burlesque show.
Indeed, Bausch and her troupe pledge no allegiance to High Art or Low, aspire neither to Variety nor Sameness, and demand nothing of the audience, but always invite, always leave room. I guess I could describe to you some of the dances in Bamboo Blues, and I could possibly give a compelling interpretation. But like dreams, cloud formations, and falling in love, the most captivating description cannot approach the real thing.