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.
Originally published at www.londondance.com