Nelken: Bausch’s Legacy

Few dance theatre pieces can sustain a life of more than three decades, barely changed, and continue to attract thousands of audience members.

Pina Bausch (born Philippine Bausch), who grew up observing customers in her parents’ inn at Solingen in post-war Germany, would go on to weave those observations into her dance theatre pieces, from which she became known to portray sincere representations of humanity. Her protégés insist that, while renowned for shock value, insisting on exploring uncomfortable or divisive ideas, and trampling conservative boundaries between artistic genres, Bausch “never sought to overturn or revolutionise the world of dance. She simply wanted to present how she saw human beings” Lutz Forster is the director of Wuppertal Tanztheatre, arriving in Adelaide next March to present one of Bausch’s greatest known works, Nelken. Hand-picked by Bausch in 1975 for her Sacre du Printemps, he is now, somewhat tragically, responsible for her legacy. Bausch passed away from cancer in 2009, only days after learning of her illness. A dancer of 40 years, Forster spent much of his “fairytale” career working alongside Bausch. He now commits himself to continuing Bausch’s storytelling techniques throughout the world, as difficult as this is, following Bausch’s death. “I tend to work as if it hasn’t happened,” Forster tells The Adelaide Review from Berlin. Amid a sea of carnations onstage, Nelken explores human relationships and life’s random but potent occurrences. While the show was created in Germany, Forster insists the stories’ relevance are not limited to the location. “Pina’s theatre is not designed to produce any kind of audience response. We have had drastically different reactions to the works as we’ve been on tour. For instance, a scene where an inspector demands passports from passersby (and instructs them to order others to behave like dogs) caused people in the former Soviet Union to go silent, from fear. At that time, politically, it resonated with them. It was happening in their world. In other countries, people have laughed at that scene.” Perhaps this is one reason the play, and indeed Bausch’s choreographic style, endures. The world has changed since the play debuted in 1982, but human nature, perhaps not so much. Tanztheatre ignores seasons and trends and other popular influences that can kill the survival of arts groups. This is demonstrated by the enormous amount of international co-productions. Bausch’s method of integrating life’s occurrences into scripts and choreography is a legacy that Forster wants to preserve. “After the death of her longtime partner and closest collaborator, Rolf Borzik, it took some time for her to decide to work on her next piece, which became 1980”, he says. “It was a difficult time. All the people involved in its creation tried to entertain and distract Pina. I felt freer to do anything stupid to cheer her up. And then I was surprised that she put many of those things into the final piece. Some people find 1980 hilariously funny; some very melancholic. It depends what you focus on.” The piece has been changed very little and has borne fruit for many an aspiring artist: “After our appearance at Sadler’s Wells in 1982 a group was founded to organise our return,” said Forster. “A lot of actors who are now famous, including Fiona Shaw and Alan Rickman, were part of the group. Fiona was at theatre school at that time and said she was overwhelmed by 1980. The reaction of the audience was incredible. We’ve performed it all over the world since.” The company’s ongoing global momentum demonstrates the success of its culture, which nurtures and encourages young dancers to experiment on a foundation of Bausch’s ideas about theatre and human relationships. Forster says Bausch was once asked what she would tell a young dancer embarking on their career. “Absolutely nothing,” she replied. “Because,” Forster says, “she knew better than that.”

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