Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch+Terrain Boris Charmatz-Nelken (Carnations), 4 Stars

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch + Terrain Boris Charmatz – Nelken (Carnations)
Sadlers Wells
14th to 22nd Feb 2024

“Premiered in 1982, Nelken depicts tragic and cruel scenes, while holding a space for tenderness and beauty. The set design features 8000 silk carnations carpeting the entire stage floor. The iconic “Nelken line” is a walking dance motif reiterated throughout the piece, that illustrates the four seasons. Bausch’s work draws on an ensemble of 20 dancers’ indefatigable energy as they sit, stand, hop, eat on stage, scream, kiss and crush the carnations.

Nelken in 2024 is performed by a new generation of Tanztheater Wuppertal dancers. They are supported by older company members Silvia Farias Heredia and Eddie Martinez as the rehearsal directors.

The piece features music from the 1930s and 1940s, including George Gershwin’s The Man I Love, amid other songs by Franz Lehár, Louis Armstrong, Sophie Tucker, Quincy Jones, Richard Tauber.

Nelken was one of the first pieces of a nearly 30 year-long collaboration between Bausch and Peter Pabst, the original set designer for the piece. Pabst’s idea behind the set design was to use nature onstage to surprise the audience; in covering the floor with carnations, he sought to turn the theatre into an otherworldly space, where the unexpected can happen and dreams unfold.

Dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch (1940–2009) renamed the Wuppertal Ballet the “Tanztheater Wuppertal” upon her appointment as director in 1973. Her idea of combining dance and theatre revolutionised dance as we know it today. ”

Review by Richard Lambert, 4 Stars

Pina Bausch, 1940 to 2009, has left an incredible legacy in the world of dance. Meshing dance and theatre, her 55 works have been performed internationally and they still exist today. Becoming artistic director in 1973, Pina changed the name of Opernhaus Wuppertal to Tanztheater Wuppertal which is more reflective of the direction she took the company in combining theatre, dance, set and music to stamp a dramatic emotional performance out of her company members.

“Nelken” (translates as “Carnations”), was created in 1982. It was likely very radical in its day portraying male dancers in dresses and heels, gender-swapping the characters, with a stage design of 8000 carnations being trampled by the dancers. Nowadays this feels like a well-worn trope. Other storylines are possibly more relevant today – themes of bullying, control, abuse resonate loudly. Interesting to see that some of the cruelty in one section comes from the female dancers.

Incredibly relevant is the passport check and resultant pass or fail system based on “decent dress” and even when the dancer conforms to the conservative dress is then treated disrespectfully and forced to perform humiliating acts to appease the immigration officer. How Pina Bausch conceived of this in 1982 is mind blowing!

There are so many themes and different sections to the production. It is theatre and in many ways brutally mind-numbing. By the end of the evening I cannot tell you what I’ve seen, I can’t explain the story, I have been impressed, scared and impressed by this theatre experience.

Pina Bausch, even now, is still running ahead of other dance companies.

Photo credit: Uwe Stratm


Sadler’s Wells is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation.

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