my review: agua by pina bausch

so finally, here is my review of pina bausch’s “agua,” which i just saw at BAM. apart from the beauty of her dance language, which i find mesmerizing, there are some issues with this work.

created during a residency in brazil in 2001, agua is supposed to be a refraction of the “landscapes, sounds, movements, and music she encountered into a color-saturated fantasy.”

yet the film projections that act as backdrop to and inspiration for bausch’s choreographed dances are too facile, too superficial. thundering waterfalls, swaying palm trees, jaguars and monkeys in the jungle, along with gigantic amazonian plants and exotic birds all come together to exoticize without the benefit of a more complex, political encounter.

even more problematic is footage of young men from the favelas lost in intense drumming and nude indigenous people swimming seamlessly in rivers, used as background or wallpaper. it reminded me of the colonial gaze that’s evident throughout “out of africa,” where faraway landscapes merge with the flora, fauna, and othered bodies of african people to create a vivid contrast against which white european stories can unfurl.

although bausch’s dancers are famously diverse (ethnically but also in terms of height, body type, and skill set), her work is still quintessentially european and so is her gaze in this piece.

the scenes she creates embody stereotypical touristy images of white people on vacation in a tropical country: people in swimsuits with funny beach towels lounging at a resort, hanging out, getting drunk, having a water fight (in a country where potable water is scarce), having sex outdoors, and dancing the night away.

as thomas hahn has written in his excellent critique, « Agua » : Pina, le Brésil et le réel:

Les images de nature paradisiaque, de tourisme de plaisance, d’ivresse en lounge, et autres fêtes d’une classe aisée dans Agua révèlent aujourd’hui à quel point cette pièce passe à côté de la réalité du pays. Agua est l’œuvre la plus superficielle de Pina Bausch. En 2001 on a pu apercevoir, avec beaucoup de bonne volonté, un semblant d’ironie ? Aujourd‘hui, cela ne tient plus.

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