Don't expect to know what's going on

By: Feb. 15, 2024
Get Access To Every Broadway Story

Unlock access to every one of the hundreds of articles published daily on BroadwayWorld by logging in with one click.

Existing user? Just click login.

Review: NELKEN - TANZTHEATER WUPPERTAL PINA + BAUSCH TERRAIN BORIS CHARMATZ, Sadler's Wells Some people only need one name: Cher, Madonna etc. In dance we have Pina - as in Bausch, the revered German dancer, choreographer and Director of Tanztheater Wuppertal until her death in 2009.

The company has continued for the last 15 years, and celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. In 2022 the French dancer/choreographer Boris Charmatz became the Director instigating a name change: Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch + Terrain Boris Charmatz.

The 1982 Bausch work Nelken (Carnations) is being performed eight times by the company at Sadler’s Wells over the next two weeks, and it’s the first time Charmatz presents the troupe as Director in the UK.

Theatres have a different feel pre Bausch, with a tangible atmosphere of anticipation and importance - and rightly so. This isn’t run of the mill stuff…and whether it's your bag or not is irrelevant.

8000 carnations are the backdrop, or rather the flooring for the cast of 20, and the work is described as “an ode to the beauty of dancing bodies”. I didn't see or feel this description in a literal way, but I saw a lot of other aspects, and many for the first time ever on stage, which is quite something for a piece that's 42 years old.

Four dogs, the peeling of potatoes, the chopping of onions, facials of said onions, Lola the amusement automaton and the jumping off of 10 metre high scaffolding onto a structure of cardboard boxes by four men simultaneously.

At times I found the disconnection of the work perplexing. Should I be struggling to find a linear path through? In the end the challenge seemed too monumental to take on, so I didn't. Perhaps this is Bausch’s agenda? To free the observer from expectation through randomness. Mission accomplished!

Elements that feel omnipresent are intimidation and humiliation. Often presided over by a role that's part ringmaster and immigration officer, it can feel properly uncomfortable to witness. Is there any question more threatening than “passport please”?

There is dance, in the obvious sense, but not masses, so when it happens it feels very satisfying, quenching even.

Bausch is the queen of minimalism and repetition, and this current generation do her proud. If you catch glimpses of individuals midflow they omit only precision and commitment in their tight, chorus line formations, until they scatter as bedlam ensues. 

When watching dance, dancers so often become the work, and this isn't a criticism, it's their responsibility. But with Bausch, the opposite seems to happen: the work becomes the dancers. Nowhere else do I leave the theatre so aware of who I saw perform, specifically facially. Bausch is able to communicate identity in a myriad of ways, including gender fluidity, and to this day I'm unsure whether she has any serious competition. Of course the use of voice supports this no end; Gesamtkunstwerk in action.

In short: don't expect to know what's going on, go with it, see where it takes you, and enjoy the ride I say. Dankeschön.

Nelken is showing at Sadler’s Wells till 22 February

Photo credit: Oliver Look