Dance: Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch – Bamboo Blues – Barbican Theatre

Tanztheater Wuppertal 'Bamboo Blues' Shantala Shivalingappa. Photo: Jong-Duk Woo

If it’s Thursday, it must be Kolkata. In 2007 Pina Bausch and her company took up residency in the capital of West Bengal; not for Bausch the political centre of New Delhi or the economic powerhouse that is Bombay, but rather the city that has variously been associated with culture, literature, population crisis and Mother Teresa. It’s somehow apt that this elegant yet gritty part of the world should inspire an artist whose works could often be described in the same way.

In common with other Bausch late works, Bamboo Blues is focussed more on dance motifs than spoken word or mime. The ballgowns this time are lovely silk dresses in sari colours – burnt orange, hot fuschia and peacock green – that swirl around the stage in gusts of man-made wind. The men wear that peculiar deshi uniform of western suit trousers with a loose shirt, collar and cuffs unbuttoned, that never quite seems to fit. The set is simple: a loose white hanging curtain at the back, billowing in the never-ending wind, upon which projections of coconut palms play.

Like other works in the World Cities series, Bamboo Blues is less a representation of its host city than an abstract of flavours and colours. Little vignettes show dancers practising yoga contortions (which turn out to be a visual trick), washing onstage in buckets, showering in the monsoon rain and sleeping in any available space. One dancers curls up onto a large pillow, which she is then obliged to share with another sleeper; another takes refuge under the folds of Nayoung Kim’s ballgown. The clatter and chaos of Kolkata’s streets is somewhat gently evoked here; Bausch’s music is largely subcontinental electronica and light, soothing jazz rather than the relentless pounding beats and yelling that usually spell urban India.

Indian dance traditions play likewise subtly across the movement material. A male dancer performs a frenetic, but staggeringly precise, solo to a rapid tabla track; the speed and energy of Kolkata’s Tollywood are clearly present in the solo without the clichéd thumps and bumps of filmi dancing. Classical dancer Shantala Shivalingappa’s solo owes much more to native dance tradition; she folds her knees low, summoning lotus flowers, smiles and kisses with her fingers. Later, she appears lit up like a Christmas tree in a striking translucent costume; even Bausch’s elegant vision can’t keep the national penchant for tack completely at bay.

In comparison to earlier Bausch works, this one is very light on text and audience interaction; the front row is offered a cardamom-scented ribbon at one point, and one viewer is daubed with a vermillion tikka, but in general the dancers stick to the stage and to dancing. I did however love the woman who announced at the beginning of the second half that she had had a dream where she “was flying! Flying, and cooking! Cooking, and flying, and cleaning the floor!” And nice red saris; nobody expects the Bengali inquisition.

Mother Teresa herself makes a fleeting appearance in the guise of the blue-bordered white saris that several cast members wrap around themselves. The woman wear them catwalk-style, knotted over silk gowns and paired with high heels as they parade in pairs across the stage; perhaps a nod to India’s increasing profile in the world of fashion. The men wear the same blue-bordered saris in labourer-style, bare-chested and with bare feet, grounding the image of the country once again in its workforce. Or maybe it just looks pretty; it’s hard to ever truly know with Bausch.

Torment and cruelty are (as with 2009’s Como el musguita… ) notable largely by their absence; there is one brief scene in which a woman is carried bodily around the stage, her dress tied closed at the bottom with her legs inside as if she is being rushed away in a sack. This could be a suggestion of forced marriage or kidnap; either way it was an unsettling moment in an otherwise placid and surprisingly peaceful work. Whatever Kolkata represents for us today, for Bausch it certainly seems to have been a City of Joy.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch World Cities 2012 continues until 9 July at Sadler’s Wells and the Barbican
Returned tickets only: and

Originally published at

Dance: Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch – Como el musguito – Sadler’s Wells

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch 'Como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si' Photo: Ursula Kaufmann.

There’s a moment in Pina Bausch’s final work for the stage, Como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si that for me neatly sums up how this piece simultaneously is and isn’t representative of the choreographer. A woman stands at the front of the stage, dressed – as is usual in Bausch’s works – in a gorgeous full-length evening gown. A man arrives behind her and begins to lash her, albeit ineffectually, with a slip of soft red fabric. She tells him in a whisper to stop it; he continues. This at first appears to be yet another scene in a decades-long series of Bauschian cruelties; the woman subordinate, exposed to humiliation if not actual pain.

But this time is different – she raises her lovely peach robe above her utterly fabulous jewel-crusted stillettoes, and with a casual flick of the heel whips the red cloth around her ankle and ends the absurd conflict on her own terms. It’s like a bullfight in reverse, the matador skulking off while the bull claims all the style points. It says much about Bausch’s evolution that this moment is both recognisably of her oeuvre – the gown, the heels, the male-female power plays, the sense of display – and yet ends in a much happier place. Not only do Bausch and her dancers seem to be having fun on their last city stop, but for once the women seem to be on top.

Como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si [the title, meaning ‘like moss on a stone, ah yes, yes, yes’ comes from a song used in the work], was created in 2009 following a spell in Santiago de Chile as part of Bausch’s 23-year World Cities project, in which the company took up residency in cities around the world to produce new pieces inspired by each of the locations. The series began with earthy excavations of Rome’s Viktor (seen at Sadler’s last week); Chile seems by contrast to have ushered in a little sunshine.

It all begins in black and white; a woman in a white shirt-dress and with bare feet freezes stock still when passed around by a group of monochrome men, but erupts into blissful arcs of movement when left alone. She is soon joined by a brightly-coloured female ensemble; clad in long frocks they sweep across the stage and arch into deep backbends, casting rocks to the floor as they pass, the weight – quite literally – falling from their shoulders.

This last work has a good ratio of Tanz to theater, each member of the cast receiving at least one joyful solo full of circling limbs, soft falls and airy pirouettes. Company co-director Dominique Mercy’s solo seems to capture the wind, his trousers rippling in the Chilean breeze as he drifts across the stage to the sound of panpipes. Other solos echo aspects of city nightlife, or just the joy of the largely Spanish soundtrack.

The men of the piece appear largely as comedy foils to the women; they treat the female cast as goddesses, helpless in the presence of beauty, comically desperate for a touch or a kiss. Of course, any feminist worth her salt will tell you that the cult of beauty is just another way to subjugate the fair sex; compared to the humiliations borne by the women represented in other Bausch works, however, it feels like Como el musguito..’s ladies are getting off lightly. In the few brief confessional moments in which the cast address the audience, the women appear to be both fully aware of and fully happy with their gendered roles. “Of course I’m feminine!” laughs one.

The particular image of strength through femininity, illustrated by the cloth-wrapping moment, crops up again and again. The statuesque Anna Wehsarg shrugs off a deluge of water poured on her from above by a male dancer – which surely would have been a degrading moment in previous Bausch works – and continues applying her makeup before strutting off looking fabulous. A woman in a beautiful red ballgown tells us as she rumbas with a male partner that she is living in the moment, and enjoying it. Both parts of her statement seem true.

There’s certainly room in my heart for Bausch in her bleaker moods, as the interpreter par excellence of the oppression, cruelty and pain of modern life. But Como el musguito… reminds us of how funny, unpredictable, sweetly silly and downright stunning Bausch’s works could also be.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch World Cities 2012 continues until 9 July at Sadler’s Wells and the Barbican
Returned tickets only:

Originally published at