Adelaide Festival Dance Review: Nelken

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 2.47.45 pmPhoto Credit: Tony Lewis

When I entered the Festival Theatre, the entire stage resembled a dream: it had become a field of pink carnations. My immediate assumption was that this production by Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch was going to be a traditional ballet show. Any informed person would know Nelken was anything but.

The production’s costume choice of vintage silk dresses, worn by both female and male performers, conjured nostalgic memories, emphasising the reoccurring theme of childhood and naivety. Throughout the performance, there was audience interaction: we were shouted at, removed from our seats, and forced to dance. Several individuals ended up in an intimate embrace with a muscular, but sweaty dancer.

On the surface, some parts of this performance seemed pretentious. It felt like it was trying to hard to make a point, by doing something so outlandish that it just came off as overly contrived. This was best exemplified by a dancer pouring dirt on her head, and then loudly wailing and stomping around on the flowers. It was so dull, abruptly changing the entire tone for some stupidly absurd scene that contributed nothing of importance.

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 2.48.01 pm

Photo Credit: Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch

Thankfully, the show had far more poignant moments that outweighed the contemptible. I thoroughly enjoyed the use of repetition throughout the performance; whether it was through dialogue, dance, or choreographed movements. It did not come off as monotonous, slow, or tedious. The synchronised motions were mesmerising, and watching the dancers move in harmony had a moving, therapeutic effect. The theme of repetition acted as a transitional mechanism between scenes, connecting separate ideas that would otherwise seem disjointed.

A handful of times, a man would ask “passport” in a deep, accusatory tone. Despite the fact that this Bausch performance first showed in 1982, this motif still rings true today. The idea of people’s identity being challenged resonates deeply with the current migration crisis in Europe, or even Donald Trump’s proposal that forces American Muslims to have special identification if elected.

Consequently, my expectations were completely subverted, which was probably the reaction Bausch desired. The complete lack of actual dancing at a ‘ballet’ show displayed a rejection of the traditional, strict, and rigid ideas that ballet is renowned for. It was confronting to see an incensed dancer screaming at us: “look I can do it, what else do you want to see?!”, and perfectly executing the emotive ballet moves with athleticism and grace. As someone who is new in appreciating dance, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and felt challenged by some of the deeper underlying themes and ideas of this performance.

Rachel Wong

3.5 out of 5 stars

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