Pina Bausch's Sensuous, Mysterious, Funny, Sexy, Playful, Violent "Bamboo Blues"

(photo taken from here).

Last night I went to see Pina Bausch’s Bamboo Blues at Brooklyn Academy of Music. This was my first time seeing something by Bausch live (I’d only ever seen her work in film and on YouTube, and of course in Almodovar’s Talk To Her), and I see why she is so popular. She really knows how to create a provocative spectacle. Performed by her Tanztheater Wuppertal, it, like I think all of Bausch’s work, is not pure dance but a combination of dance and theater with spoken word, little acted-out vignettes, and video installations.

Being so visual and composed of many sub–pieces, the work is hard to describe, but basically several women dressed in gorgeous, richly textured ballgowns danced, mostly alone or with one or two men, who were, in contrast, dressed in rather mundane white sheets wrapped around their waists like towels. Much of the music was Indian-based and -inspired, but with a Western beat, and at times with lyrics in English or French. The movement in the solos was Indian-inspired as well, with beautifully flexed wrists and feet, splayed fingers and toes. Not surprisingly, the dancer who had the most pronounced gestures in this regard was Shantala Shivalingappa, who is Indian and trained in classical Indian and modern dance. See NYTimes article on her here.

The women wore their hair (all of it long, long, long) down and repeatedly swung their heads about, creating generally a very sensuous effect, that turned a bit violent at times, when it became aggressive. The men were the same.

(photo by Ulli Weiss)

But then the duets and ensemble dancing was more comical, at times also violent. After one woman performed a solo, a sensual dance, in front of white, billowing curtains, her dress billowing along with them, several women took the stage, coming out one by one. Dressed in the exquisite gowns though they were, their gait was more an aggressive strut than a stylized walk, and they all seemed to be chomping on something — tobacco perhaps? They all took a position, and lay, making sexy poses, directed at the audience. But of course the sexiness was undermined by that exaggerated chomping.

(photos by Nelvin C. Cepeda)

Then the women left and the men came out in their towel-sheets, walking in a more sexy, more feminine manner, which caused the audience to laugh. I laughed too, but wondered if I was the only one who questioned why this, the gender juxtapositioning, was necessarily funny.

And there was a kind of battle of the sexes / battle of the self undercurrent, as women and men paired happily — for example in the picture at top where a woman and man rocked themselves to sleep in each others’ arms; but at times violently, when, for example, a man would repeatedly pick up a woman and throw her aggressively over his shoulder in a dangerous-looking lift, or when a man would grab a woman’s hand, run around the stage pulling her along, put a chair in her path, and rush her toward the chair, forcing her to run atop and jump off of it, falling — or crashing more like — into his arms. At times the women seemed to enjoy this aggression, at times their faces would show strain and unease.

Sometimes it was actually kind of confusing how much the women were willing participants in this, how much they controlled the men, or how much they were being controlled by them. At one point a woman took the straps of her gown down over her shoulders, as if she was going to do a strip tease. She didn’t. Instead she began rubbing, caressing her shoulders with her hands, criss-crossed over her chest. A man came up and angrily began smudging her chest with red paint, his strokes like slices of a knife. She didn’t see him, but moaned in pleasure as his hand sliced her chest. The more he “stabbed” the more she ecstatic she seemed to become.

Some of those images and vignettes with their contradictions and twists and turns from sexy, sensual, and playful, to manipulated and violent, won’t be leaving me for a while. The dance shows through December 20th; for info and to see a video go here.


  1. Who is the guy on the picture with a girl in purple, he is handsome!!!!

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