It is well known now that the German demigoddess of dance, Philippina “Pina” Bausch, conceived her last dance theatre work in India. Bamboo Blues, which was inspired by her travels across Kerala and Kolkata—and first performed in Kolkata in 2007—is a medley of colours and tropes so uniquely Indian that it is surprising Pina transported them to the global stage the way she did.
During a three-month residency in India put together by the Goethe-Institut in 2006, Pina and around 30 dancers and crew members from her Tanztheater Wuppertal dance company collaborated with 10 Indian artistes from different fields: The popular singer and film-maker Anjan Dutta and Odissi dancer Sharmila Biswas were among them. For the visual arts, she was put in touch with a local photographer Dev Nayak, then 32.
Nayak is not a dance photographer; he spent the greater part of his photography career shooting for Time magazine in eastern India. But, as he says, the point of the collaboration was to “interact and bounce ideas off each other”—which is what he did, taking the world’s most celebrated contemporary dance choreographer to Kolkata’s creative districts along Chitpur Road, debating matters of art, and facilitating visits to historic areas such as Kumartuli.
The city the stage: Pina (left) with one of her dancers in Kolkata.
During the course of their interactions, Nayak took some photographs as well. And now, around 50 of his images are on show in an exhibition titled Memories of a Beautiful Mind, presented by the German consulate general, Kolkata, and the Harrington Street Arts Centre as part of the ongoing “Year of Germany in India”.
Pina’s style of blending movements, sounds, stage sets, and her elaborate collaborations with performers during the composition of a piece (a style now known as Tanztheater), resulted in large-scale multimedia productions which always translated to highly charged photographs. However, her managers usually discouraged photography during performances. “She put in a word for me,” says Nayak, adding that months of being embedded with the troupe helped.
His pictures from the first-ever performance of Bamboo Blues capture its sensual content; the brightly swirling colours and fluid movements. When a lone woman describes an arc with her arm, abruptly stops, and then launches into a crystalline solo—all power and light—Nayak captures the flurry of red satin in his photograph.
But even more precious than his pictures of the performance are the six portraits of Pina herself that are part of the exhibition. These photographs, in black and white, chronicle Pina’s time in India: Here she is sitting in a cycle rickshaw; there, posing in an old photo studio; and there again, smoking a cigarette almost meditatively amid the chaos of Kolkata.
Nayak describes her as “a very stylish woman”, ever curious and energetic. “You knew that she was really enjoying her time in the world,” he says. And though she was 65 at the time of her trip, being surrounded by young men and women from around the world as she always was—her dancers came from Latin America, Europe, even India—gave her a youthful aura.
Not too long after her trip to India, Pina died in 2009 of an unstated form of cancer.
Earlier this year, Wim Wenders’ 3D documentary Pina immortalized the legend of the world of dance. This exhibition freeze-frames her links with India.
Memories of a Beautiful Mind will run at The Harrington Street Arts Centre, Kolkata, till 26 November.