Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

South Pacific

December 16, 2008

Pablo Aran Gimeno and Ruth Amarante in a previous staging of Bamboo Blues
Photo: Ulli Weiss

It wasn’t all about music in New York last weekend. I also got over to BAM to catch the latest U.S. performances from the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in her 2007 creation Bamboo Blues. It’s quintessential Bausch and while there are no radical departures or huge surprises, it still rewarding to see the choreographer's work considering how unique it is. There is still the interest in non-Western cultural traditions, and Bamboo Blues is firmly rooted in South Asia and the South Pacific. Men in sarongs, tropical palm trees, and voluminous billowing drapery all evoke another place from our own. The stage is filled at times with videos of those same palm trees and stills from jumbo-sized Bollywood films. And while the choreography is not oblivious to these cultural influences, make no mistake that this is still clearly the work of Bausch as they flow back and forth between performers as one leaves off and another picks up a chain of convoluted and nonsensical narrative whimsy.

The resulting images are often quite beautiful. There is also the trademark Bausch humor that approaches a sort of sublime Jacques Tati realm where the laughter resides beyond language in a more universal realm of the physical. There are fewer additional non-dancing performers in Bamboo Blues than in prior works, but the sly smile is still there. Movement-wise there is still the magnificent fluidity and magic. Women with their long flowing hair appear and resurface in long, billowing, brightly-colored evening dresses in what the woman behind me referred to as the world's biggest Pantene commercial. And there is something to that, but it's still a very appealing aesthetic. The piece is a good two and a half hours, but Bausch's work has relied on a hypnotic effect not unlike the films of Jacques Rivette—it's about how you got there, not where you actually arrive at. The show is very good and much worth seeing with performances at BAM through Saturday, though the shows are pretty full already.


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