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Review: Nelken (Carnations)

Adelaide Festival

Beautiful, funny, disturbing and always fascinating, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch’s Nelken defies convention and expectation.

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In the 1970s, the theatrical works of Pina Bausch encouraged a generation of choreographers and theatre directors to rethink the role and nature of dance and theatre. In her performances, dancers were able to speak, act, sing and use any theatrical skill in the name of art.

And so the works of Pina Bausch have become synonymous with modern dance and experimental theatre. Her work is visual and beautiful, confronting and questioning, but there is always a sense of life being a good and positive experience.

Before the performance of Nelken (Carnations), the audience sees a sea of carnations covering the Festival Theatre stage, which delights the senses and arouses curiosity.

The next two hours fly by in an instant as the company presents a mesmerising concoction of human experiences that are beautiful, funny, disturbing and always fascinating.

Dancers in suits and evening gowns carry chairs onto the stage, delicately stepping to avoid the carnations, and then they sit, contemplatively, for the first piece of music. Bausch’s work consistently has us wondering if this is dance, if this is what theatre is meant to be and if life is meant to be as depicted.

Strong, athletic male dancers appear in vivid-coloured, open-backed satin dresses and explore the beautiful world of carnations in movement; they joyfully bunny hop until stopped by a man in a suit who asks one for his passport. Bausch builds a narrative and mood, then breaks it with a thunderbolt that has you wondering and questioning your own ideas, beliefs and perceptions.

A dancer signs to the words of Gershwin’s “The Man I Love”; a woman wearing white knickers and covered only by a piano accordion carefully crosses the stage; chairs, tables and scaffolds are wheeled on and off; dancers scream and plead with the audience; a few speak into microphones and a young woman is fed an apple.

A microphone amplifies dancers’ heartbeats, so we identify with their very essence and the pulse of life. A man in a suit making rules seems to be always nearby and there is always someone to defy him.

Throughout the piece there is an investigation of power and those who use or abuse positions of power. An innocent man in a dress is playfully caught but then spanked, which blurs the lines of fun and abusive parenting; an extended game of children playing the equivalent of “What’s the time Mister Wolf” becomes a metaphor for one person’s obsession with power.

The Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch company has a terrific sense of humour, defying convention and expectation. Nelken (Carnations) is very entertaining and there is always something intriguing happening; it celebrates a spirit and world of difference, and challenges those who would have us stereotyped, categorised and put in boxes.

This is a work – one of many by Pina Bausch – that has transformed the very nature of dance and theatre, taking its audiences on a journey of discovery and beauty. At the end, we view a sea of trampled carnations with a few remaining resilient survivors, and we leave admiring the beauty of life and acknowledging its fragility.

Nelken (Carnations) – A Piece by Pina Bausch is being presented by Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch at the Festival Theatre until March 12.



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