A man carries a woman on his back, and her face and yelps tell that she clearly does not want to be there. Men grin as women sensuously curl up and around with them. A woman runs after a man so resolutely that she appears injured. And for good measure, a woman with a sheet covering her face is thrown around the stage by a constellation of men.
The abuse of women by men is familiar territory for the legendary choreographer Pina Bausch, whose Bamboo Blues ends its brief run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Saturday. But then there's this moment, tucked into the middle of the show, when one of the men curls up underneath a woman's flowing dress. It's as if he's resigning himself to a fantasy, if not of the Orient, at least of the exoticized women who inhabit it. (Finally, a couple of men strut around in dresses more Asian-looking than those of their female counterparts.)
This all may be a comment on how we the audience imagine India -- the hurlyburly India of spice markets and tribal dancing and Bollywood, not of slums or terrorism -- or how BAM's trustees might, or how Bausch herself does. The images are fleeting and spectral, like a dream of India by a European tourist (I wonder how this played during its tour of the country). But the choreographer and company have been there half a dozen times, recently doing the ethnographic thing for which Bausch's Tanztheater Wuppertal is known.
There are glimpses behind the curtain of fantasy to something more than stereotypes (the rear curtain is actually, beautifully, made of dozens of curtains hung next to each other) but not many. The India we get is one of incense and snake charmers and even call centers. A woman with an elephant head appears at one point. There are snippets of classical dance too, courtesy of Shantala Shivalingappa, Bausch's Indian muse and an up-and-coming classical and modern dancer. But instead of complicating them, the piece luxuriates in an imagery of a fuzzy India, near violence and half-eroticisms.
It's for and despite those reasons that this is dance worth seeing. Bausch is a master, and the frenetic dreamlike drama and melancholy and comedy of her tanztheater shine through here at moments. Even at moments, we can see India -- or at least what it looks like to those of us who for now can only afford a trip to Fulton Ave. on the G train.
Pictured: Damiano Ottavio Bigi, Tsai Chin Yu
Please credit: Richard Termine