Incarnations of ‘Carnations’

“I am not performing in Carnations anymore, not for a few years because it’s quite physical and demanding. You have to have the right type of energy which I cannot offer anymore now,” Mercy says.

‘Carnations’ (photo credit: ALEX GOULIAEV)
(photo credit: ALEX GOULIAEV)
When he thinks back on his illustrious career, award-winning dancer Dominique Mercy remembers many joyous moments, sparks of happiness and fulfillment that justified all of the sacrifice, hard work and self-doubt that accompanied his path.
“I never could explain why I’m dancing,” he said in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post. “Sometimes, when I look at a piece or when I teach, I realize that my favorite moment is like three or four seconds.”
It is early evening in Germany and Mercy, 69, has just arrived home after a day of rehearsals. As one of the most veteran dancers of Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal, Mercy is used to the rhythm of such days, which include long hours in the studio. These days, Mercy’s role includes more watching and directing than dancing but he still enjoys the spotlight in several of Bausch’s productions.
This month, the company will return to Israel to perform Carnations, one of Bausch’s seminal works. It will be the troupe’s second visit since Bausch’s death in 2009. During their last tour they performed the fado-infused Masurca Fogo. Mercy will travel with the company but will, unfortunately, not take the stage.
“I am not performing in Carnations anymore, not for a few years because it’s quite physical and demanding. You have to have the right type of energy which I cannot offer anymore now,” he says.
Mercy met Bausch in 1972, after returning from a stint in America. Two years later, he relocated to Wuppertal to begin a decades-long collaboration. During his time alongside Bausch, Mercy developed roles in countless creations and was awarded a Bessie for his performance in Masurca Fogo. After Bausch passed away, Mercy collaborated with several other veteran dancers to maintain and preserve her legacy and works. Over time, Mercy has passed on several of his roles but continues to perform in a handful of works including Like the Moss on the Stone… and Palermo, Palermo.
“There is enough range and frame in Pina’s work to let it grow as you go on in life. As an interpreter on stage you feel differently when you’re over 60 or when you’re 30 or 45. It seems to be natural. I wouldn’t know if its maturity but there is another distance which you take with what you do on stage somehow.”
From day one and through their time together, working with Pina challenged Mercy to push past his training and tendencies, and dig deep into himself. Every creative process began and proceeded with questions, which Bausch would pose to her dancers. She would also propose a question to her crew and then give them time to ponder, experiment and create using their response as inspiration. Bausch would then pluck out bits and pieces of what her dancers generated and compose it into a work. Over his years in the company, Bausch asked Mercy countless questions.
“Some of us were very spontaneous and full of fantasy,” explains Mercy. “I always needed a bit of time. I always was conscious to try to find new ways to respond to things. There are some questions that I never answered because I couldn’t find something that had value.”
The process for Carnations, which the company premiered in 1982, was quite the same. Bausch asked her dancers to imitate animals.
“I liked that question because I like to do that. I had a few animals that I imitated: dog, parrot, goose. I also had a seal, which was in the piece for a while and then disappeared,” he said.
“One of the questions that comes to mind now was to do something that you think you can do very well. The Man I Love was one of those. The scene when I’m talking to the audience and asking what they want to see and doing ballet vocabulary is another. The cutting onions was proposed by a dancer who was also a learned cook.”
As Mercy runs through scenes from Carnations it feels as though they are not moments in a production but memories from real life. In fact, one of the things that made working with Bausch so special was her ability to present humanity on stage.
“Each one of us reacted to her questions and proposed material and did different things form us as a human being. That was what Pina was most looking for. It was about what human beings are feeling among each other and between each other,” he says.
Through Bausch’s eyes and vision, Mercy found an avenue to communicate with the world and, along the way, a home.
 “It’s the place where I felt most in my place. I felt I could be mostly myself and not play or fake or show off. The beautiful thing in what we do is that you have the possibility to say things that you might not dare to say in your normal life. It’s the place where you can try to be as honest as possible, to be naked at the same way there is always certain decency. You can’t lie out there and maybe that’s one of the most precious things.”
Tanztheater Wuppertal will perform Carnations at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center on October 17-19. For more information, visit