All about love

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch returns to Israel with ‘Carnations’

The Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch (photo credit: OLIVER LOOK)
The Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch
(photo credit: OLIVER LOOK)
The Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch troupe returns to Israel as part of the Dance series of the Israel Opera. Carnations, created in 1982, was last performed in Israel 30 years ago in an unforgettable evening in Caesarea.
Last Thursday, a decade after Bausch’s passing, the theater held a memorial evening for her, performing short excerpts from some of her seminal works. As part of the evening, dancers quoted things she had said to them, questions she asked, ideas and their own feelings. It was a beautiful evening, emotional – but not sentimental, and it highlighted her preoccupation with people, with the uniqueness of each of her dancers and the most basic human need for love.
“Only on stage can you be yourself,” was one of the more resonating statements that were quoted. Another moving moment was when a young dancer who joined the company after Bausch’s death said she dreamt one night that Pina gave her instructions, but when she woke, she couldn’t remember what those words were and now “I will never know.”
Echoing the same sentiment, in an interview the following morning, Jonathan Fredrickson, one of the young dancers that joined the troupe after 2009, said that he constantly wonders what she would have told him, how she would have reacted to his choices.
“I only think about it all the time,” he smiles. “I try to see it in the reactions of the older dancers who knew her. I try to see if they are not completely disgusted by my choices. But I get a lot of support from them, so I guess I am doing something right.”
Fredrickson (35), from Texas, joined the company in 2015. He learned of Bausch only in 2002, when he saw a photograph of Carnations and was amazed.
”I had never seen anything like that,” he says. “The unique way she mixed dance with theater, the atmosphere, I felt I had to try and join the Pina Bausch Company but I never thought there will be a place for me. Then she died and I thought, ‘Well, that’s it.’ But a friend told me they were holding auditions in New York. I went and got an invitation to come to Wuppertal. It was not in my plans, but I knew that I had to do it. To say no, I felt, was bad karma.”
Dominique Merci (69), one of the founding members of the Pina Bausch Company, met Pina before she established the company, and still dances in some works. He does not dance In Carnations anymore, “It is too much physically,” he says, but is now in charge of the rehearsals. Merci says that the young members are as dedicated to preserving Bausch’s legacy and art as the ones who knew her. Part of his work, like his colleagues, is to transfer what he got from Pina to young dancers who replace him.
“I think we all have different ways to do it.” He says. “It is different with each part. There is a pattern; the piece is what it is and I think that for somebody stepping into the piece, he has to have an idea of the vocabulary of the piece, of the situation, and then slowly enter into the mood and where it comes from. It takes time, also, depending on the dancer.”
Fredrickson says that each dancer who transmits his or her role to another dancer has a different approach.
“I think mainly because she had a different approach to each performer, so they got different information from her. For me to learn from different people, I almost get a broader view of how she worked with different individuals, just by what they give to me. So some are very stick-to-the-task and then the task creates the emotion, some speak from a place of a feeling or story to be able to perform the task. It needs to come from a place inside – to sparkle something in you in order to do it. So it is authentic and not robotic.”
FOLLOWING BAUSCH’S death in 2009 just days after being diagnosed with lung cancer, the artistic heart and soul of the Company died abruptly. Heartbroken and feeling lost, the members of Tanztheater Wuppertal had to continue her work, carrying the burden of her legacy.
Merci says that trying to pass on Bausch’s instructions is “one of the most challenging things in our situation now, because Pina herself never explained. You could never say Pina would have said so or think so, because she was always surprising us somehow with her decisions and choices that we didn’t understand. Sometimes it would take a while for us to understand why she made those choices. Now our big challenge is on one hand to stay as near and close as possible to what we received from her to what we experienced throughout the years so there is something that we sense and know through the works and her reactions and what she said, but also our duty to not use it as straitjacket.
“Pina was not a big speaker. She thought it had to come from the inside of the dancers – from somewhere in the body lower than the intellect. From wherever you place the soul. It is one of the main reasons she never explained anything in the programs,” said Merci.
“The only time when you could eventually get something was when you were present in an interview and she answered a question. I remember, for instance, years ago as we did The Rite of Spring again with a group of new dancers from the Folkvangr Schulle. She was always bringing some of them in the cast and they came to me and said, ‘It would be nice to understand why. We miss Pina explaining to us.’ I told her it would be nice if she could speak with them, that they are expecting it. She replied, ‘Yeah, but there is nothing to explain, nothing to say. Everything is there…’ and it is so true, you know. There is so much information in the work that there is nothing to explain – it is all there. Of course, now when we need to transmit it to other dancers, it is different. Pina and I, we never really talked so much. We didn’t have to. We didn’t come to the company because of each other – we came because of Pina we had to cooperate with each other.”
Bettina Wagner Bergelt, the recently-appointed artistic manager, says that now, 10 years after Pina’s death, she still deals with the consequences of her departure.
“Everything was around her – she was the heart of the whole operation. She was the mentor, the motivation and the emotional center. When she died, everyone was lost. Then The veteran of the company, Robert Strum and Dominique Merci, took over. They didn’t have time to organize, to deal with her loss, to go through the process.
“No one will ever take her place, but the politicians decided that this company would always be dedicated to Pina’s work and to her legacy,” continues Wagner Bergelt.
“She totally changed the view toward dance. She invented Tanzteater – dance theater – because of the contents she wanted to deal with. The way she looked at people and at dance and dancers was radical. She looked at life in a way no one did before her. Dance was very much dominated by the view of the classical ballet that we had for a long time. Everybody looked for beauty in dance. Of course, Pina was interested in beauty, you see it in all her works, but she did was not only to show dance, but to show what makes people dance – what the inner motivation is, the impulse, the energy that helps them survive. She always wanted to dig into the inner lives of people – their fears and anxieties and also the motivations concerning love.
“I am looking forward to coming to Israel for the first time,” she says. When asked if she had any reservations about coming to Israel due to political factors, she becomes emotional, holding tears back as she responds.
“As a German I don’t think that we can criticize others and make those observations. Of course, there are issues, but it is not for us to ban anybody. I am really looking forward to coming to Israel. I know that the members of our company are excited as well.”
As a long-time admirer of Pina Bausch’s genius, I for one am looking forward to experiencing Carnations at the Opera later this week.
The performances will take place at the Israel Opera, Tel Aviv October 17- October 23. For tickets and more information call (03) 6927777 or go to