Nelken (Carnations)

Photo: © Jochen Viehoff
Used with permission

First performed December 30, 1982

Trying to convey the audacity and overwhelming impact of Pina Bausch's Nelken is like trying to describe what it's like to see a ghost by itemising its appearance. One could say: picture a stage full of pink carnations and a girl, almost naked, walking through it carrying an accordion. Or, visualise lots of men bunnyhopping round this beautiful field in ladies' dresses having a high old time, despite the Alsatians barking from the edge and the resigned bureaucrat trying to check their passports. Or, a man all alone signing in deaf language the words of Gershwin's The Man I Love. Pina Bausch always looks so miserable in photographs, her utterances are so gnomic, that it was a surprise to see how lyrical and funny some of Nelken is - and how it winkles its way into the subconscious.

Ismene Brown
The Daily Telegraph
4 September 1995


For all its humor (and there is a considerable dose), "Carnations" asks how love is possible in the world in which we live. The occasional sight of two German shepherds on patrol with their trainers at the rear of the stage shows Miss Bausch at her most metaphorically direct. The motif of the world as police state is never lost. Repeatedly, the performers are asked to show their passports by a ubiquitous master of ceremonies-secret police official. Add four professional stuntmen who don't have to strain to look thuggish and whose duties, among other things, include jumping down from two high scaffolds, and a deliberately disquieting element comes into play. The sinister and the mellow constantly mesh.

Anna Kisselgoff
The New York Times
7 July 1988


Examples of authoritarian abuse were thrust in our face. The dancers underwent ritual humiliation, submitting like concentration camp inmates to degradation after degradation. They hurled themselves through harrowing sequences of self-inflicted violence, while others squirmed in horror. Yes, there was a perverse fascination in watching how far Bausch would push her brave troupe. And undoubted admiration for their extraordinary physical and mental control.

The humour, when it came, was unexpectedly effective, but so much of Nelken was more grating than gratifying: the silly audience-participation games; the adolescent drama school exercises; the vocal hysterics; the frequent costume changes. In the end, you were left with the unpleasant thought that you had just been assaulted by nearly two hours of mostly meaningless pretension, the occasionally striking product of an otherwise barren artistic intellect.

Debra Craine
The Times (London)
5 September 1995

By Mimi Tashiro ©1999, Stanford University


Top of Page || Home Page || Stanford University Libraries || Stanford University