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This essay I want focus on analyzing Pina Bausch’s choreographic methods. Using NELKEN as a case study to review her compositional choice, aesthetic perspectives, background and inspiration of her creation.


1. Who is Pina Bausch?


Pina Bausch(1940.July.27-2009.June.30)is from the first postwar generation and graduated from the Folkwang-Hochschule in 1958. After graduation she received a grant for further studies at the Juilliard School, New York. (Climenhaga, Sourcebook 16) She studied with Antony Tudor, Paul Taylor and José Limón on precisely the time when a strong reaction against these formal techniques of modern dance arose. Bausch ‘s first work as a choreographer and creator of new pieces began in 1968 after her mentor Kurt Joss retired. In 1972 Bausch was asked to choreograph the dances for a production at Wuppertal Opera Ballet, the success of her unconventional staging led to her being offered the position of director. Bausch renamed the company to Tanztheater Wuppertal in 1973. (Climenhage, Practitioners 10)


2. What is NELKEN?

Dance review “Talking about NELKEN" excerpt:


The arena of the theater was calm and I approached it with a crowd. At the beginning, the dancers carefully crossed the carnations and found their own positions, which seemed to mirror the audience. One scene strongly impressed me: three men walked in a circle, and talked to the audience their feelings of life as a third person. Then a speechless male dancer appeared, holding a microphone. The rigid body language mapped his timid character, seemingly not good at expressing or suppressing fear. This made me felt surprised as a child who was doing something wrong, I wanted manipulate the distance between the actor me.

After a witty and cheerful group dance, my attention gradually transformed into four men encounter one women. At first the women was casually eating her cookies in front of the stage. She is gradually bothered by the action from those men, they taking turns to throw themselves from the corner of the table repeatedly, while slowly getting closer to the woman with aggressive eyes. She sat back in a chair and I could not saw her face, but her physical language let me read the fear of violence from her trembling left shoulder.

Cutting the onion and letting the knife fall on the plate. Repeating until grind. The smelting of daily life and dance was like a deliberate process, waiting for the audience. The development made me diving into the lyrics, “And though it seems absurd, I know we both won’t say a word.”

Later everyone stood up and started to dance with the gesture of the four seasons. The densely crowded people watched the stage, but the carnations fell in the windless theater. However, the scene was completely different during the dress rehearsal. Those carnations were straight on the stage. There was no extensive difference and no frightening moment. At the end actors walked back into the lit area and spoke in Chinese why they became a dancer. Some questions were planted in my heart......


3. What is the Context?

Pina Bausch danced with thoughts, she asked questions to the world. She is a philosophic dance artist. I think philosophy is a way to find meanings, for example, the meanings of humanity, different interpretation of life or love. The expression of art is an interpretation and philosophy helps me to think about why I am asking questions. There are many ways to do this. I can think from the perspective of psychology or science: Why we dance? But Bausch’s work evolved from a personal, spontaneous response to a need for addressing challenging issues. Her work also broke the boundaries between established art forms.


Pina Bausch was inspired by some true stories and cities. She created Nelken in 1982. Later, Bausch was committed by many cities to create work based on her impression of that city. She was inspired by new countries, people and cultures: “It is an incredible piece of luck to be somewhere and not simply be a tourist, but to work there, to come into contact with other people.”

4. What is her Choreographic methods?


She had a famous quotation: "I am not so interested in how they move but what moves them”( Schmidt 1984:15-16) in reference to her ensemble. That statement could be used as a credo for a new theatrical approach. Bausch was often asked how she built her pieces, she would divulged the method is asking question.(Climenhaga, practitioner 41) Through my research I have found there are some directions bringing me deeper into her choreographic methods.


Raising questions:

Bausch used material that the dancers delivered during rehearsals, dancer made

movements or spoke text. She would edited manuscript and collections of notes fragments in flux. In Nelken, the male dancers went about answering her questions differently to their female counterparts, every dancer contributes a response, include critical thinking and various perspective. Bausch asked questions; questions of elemental purpose, allowing her performers time to answer with words, with movement, with a performed moment. (Climenhaga, practitioner 52)


Bausch uses tools of theatrical presentation to readdress the base assumption from which interpretation arises, asking not only what moves us ( physically and mentally), but more specifically how we are related to the question at hand, both as performers and as people in the world. That is one of the reason I felt deeply connected with the speechless men when I was watching Nelken. Bausch’s questioning methodology and concentration on individual experience made valuable impact on my ways of seeing, opening up new pathways of connection with the worlds.

Character/ Dancer:

The rehearsal was an exploration of human behavior and experience via the questions she asked her dancers. “I look for the person...the personality”( Bausch 1985:14) It is related to asking questions, because the important dimension is whom she is asking. Her approach encouraged dancers to making criticisms and provide opinions.


In addition to performer, I must mention Raymund Hoghe is her dramaturgical collaborator between 1979 and 1990, published some rehearsal notes and questions that she highlighted. Bausch and he tried to look beyond the mundane, habits, memories and rituals, develop a specific working process. Because each dancer have to work on their role in dance theatre, which is shown in a variety of different ways.

Compositional choice:

Repetition, the arrangement of a line is a common trajectory in her creation. Then the senses of cutting onions and seas of flowers are her symbols. When I analysis Bausch’s work, gesture can be interpreted as a physical base, to reflect her approach and practice.

Bausch's theater was a combination of Brecht and Artaud because both Brecht and Artaud emphasize the use of performer's body" (Miranda 324). Their emphasis on the images. A play needs not be developed through coherent and logical events. It can be structured by actions that contain similar themes. In Bausch’s productions I can see examples of how the compositional choice is employed in relationships and dynamic of movement.


Dancers explore the body, love, gender and power on the stage filled with thousands of carnations. In the second segment of my dance review, the theme can be connected with the idea of gender conflict, women are portrayed as submissive and passive, men have the control of territory and status. Bausch asked, what are we actually doing in this world, at this time?Would more laughter be appropriate? Or more sorrow? She tried to find the universal in the particular, to filter it out, to distil and condense it, so that as many people might recognize it.

Structure and music:

Bausch’s work is non-linear, same as music. The rhythmic support is a comment on the action. Traditionally, music is used in dance as a structural base. In Bausch's dance work such relationships are abandoned and the sense of fluidity in time development is replaced by constant rupture and fragmentation.


Miranda has researched Bausch's work from an interesting perspective, she called the way is An Explicit Dance Structure with Theatrical Tropes. She analyzed Bausch’s choreographic structures related to how she manipulated her choreographic devices
( repetition, variation) and the transitions between movement sentences. Bausch inserted daily movements and theatrical tropes as her way of transition. (Miranda 202) This perspective related to my purpose of writing review, It is an observation, which illuminated my interpretation and applied the principle of montage.

Set design:

The stage design suggested a contemporary Garden of Eden in which “ The Carnations.... have been trampled underfoot... and raised the questions about the possibility of love in an alienated, legalistic and dehumanized world” ( Brockett 461)



If someone say Bausch’s method is just asking question or she just care what move you physically, I would argue she choreographed with sophisticated process that revealed the unknown.

As a researcher, I was inspired to bring my ideas, histories, and connections to the Nelken. Bausch’s methodology has given me access to the questioning process will empower me as a young artist to continue pursuing and growing.


As Bausch said: The questions never end, and the searching never ends. There is something eternal, and that's the beauty of it. That I have only just begun.


  1. Meyer, (2017) PINA BAUSCH dance, dance,otherwise we are lost. Oberon Books Ltd

  2. Kis Kosaka, (2017) Bausch’s legacy blossoms as emotions unfold on stage.The Japan Times

  3. Marc, (2014), Inheriting Dance an invitation from Pina Bausch

  4. Ni, Miranda, (2002)The development of a genre: Pina Bausch and late twentieth-century dance

  5. theater. North American: UMI

  6. Climenhaga, (2009) PINA BAUCH Routledge Performance Practicers. British: TJ International Ltd

  7. Gibiec, Rundschau, (1998) Interview Pina Bausch in 25 anniversary of Tanztheater

  8. Akerman, (1983) One Day Pina Bausch Asked. 57 minutes. Norther American: Icarus Films 

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