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By Elizabeth Zimmer
Since she brought New York to its knees with her first visit to BAM in 1984, German choreographer Pina Bausch has been the darling of avant-garde audiences, leaving them giddy with her multimedia dance-theater works.
For the past decade she’s been showing us “travelogue” pieces developed from visits to exotic locales, among them Hong Kong, Brazil, Portugal, and the American West. Snippets of her homage to Lisbon appeared in Pedro Almodóvar’s 2001 film Talk to Her.
In December her 20 magnificent performers, in gorgeous gowns and well-fitting suits, brought us Nefés, a 2003 work that grew from three weeks they spent in Istanbul before the current war began. The piece is sparer than earlier Bausch extravaganzas, though it does feature an onstage rainstorm and colossally large projections of the Bosporus Strait and Turkish traffic.
Central to the three-hour production is the sexual energy flowing between men and women and the sensual delights available in Turkish culture, like bathhouse massages and gooey snacks. Nefés’ score is a collage of Turkish music and bits of Piazzolla, German rock, and, for the fabulous final unison procession, Tom Waits singing “All the World Is Green.”
As is often the case in Bausch’s pageants, men and women seem to inhabit discrete universes, coming together for dramatic and often bewildering encounters in pairs and larger groups. Developed collaboratively with the dancers, the tableaux are more noteworthy for their visual beauty than for any choreographic excitement; Bausch creates stage pictures that form and dissolve like film images. There’s less talking and more dancing in Nefés (which is Turkish for “breath”) than in her earlier works; tiny Shantala Shivalingappa does a South Asian solo before two men lift her by her feet and carry her away.
The theater was warm, and for all its sensual loveliness, the piece’s Middle Eastern rhythms and sinuous beauties had a lulling effect. Large sections of the audience, especially in BAM’s upper reaches, struggled against sleep for much of the rambling work but sprang awake for the exquisitely crafted finale. See www.pina-bausch.de.