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Pina Bausch seen by Ursula Kaufmann
Nelken

A Piece by Pina Bausch

Nelken, known in English as Carnations, is one of the most important and most frequently performed pieces by Pina Bausch all over the world.

Here we show you the works of the internationally renowned photo artist Ursula Kaufmann, which will be the subject of a projection exhibition in the windows of the Goethe-Institut Montreal in autumn 2020.

Nelken von Pina Bausch© Ursula Kaufmann
Nelken© Foto (Detail): Ursula Kaufmann
Nelken© Foto (Detail): Ursula Kaufmann

I’m not interested in how people move, but what moves them.

Pina Bausch

The stage is a huge field of artificial carnations, over which the dancers move slowly so as not to crush the pink sea of flowers. In the course of the almost two-hour performance, the untroubled mood changes; bedlam commences when chairs are carried onto the stage on which the dancers move homogeneously. The carnations then lie trampled on the stage floor. Lutz Förster performs The Man I Love in sign language. Pina Bausch creates imagery that makes the audience laugh and cry. The piece is about love, longings, humiliations and psychological cruelty. Even after 38 years, the dancers still reap standing ovations after the Carnation performances.
 
Essen, 19 Aug 2020
Ursula Kaufmann

A good photographer knows how to capture those very moments that truly represent a choreography and is able to convey movements through standstill and to depict the stylistic peculiarities of a dance production. But this requires a foresight that brings the photographer to press the shutter release at those precise moments that are decisive for the choreography.
 
The Essen-based photo artist Ursula Kaufmann possesses this foresight and has always been a stroke of luck for the dance scene. She was once asked in an interview how she knew when to press the shutter release. She replied that she couldn’t explain it in words; her feeling tells her the right time and that feeling doesn’t deceive her. Hence, over the years since she began dance photography in 1984, she has photographed the dance productions of numerous ensembles. National and international, municipal companies and freelance troupes – Ursula Kaufmann knows them all, and she brings the same passion and enthusiasm to every production.
 
Dance lives from the images it creates; it is wordless only in so far as it does not use spoken language. But it can tell the viewer an infinite amount through images and movements, through mood and atmosphere. Ursula Kaufmann captures individual sections of the ‘dance stories’ with her camera and inevitably arouses curiosity about the whole story.

 

Ursula Kaufmann about her Exhibition

I apply Pina Bausch’s most quoted statement, “I’m not interested in how people move, but what moves them,” to my photography.
 
My photos should neither be a mere document nor an independent work of art. Allow me to quote Beate Sokoll (Zentrum für Zeitgenössischen Tanz) from her preface to my publication Getanzte Augenblicke, Ursula Kaufmann fotografiert Pina Bausch und das Tanztheater Wuppertal, published by Müller und Busmann, 2005:
 
“Dance is, to use an often laboured word, the ‘most fleeting of the arts'. Without the means of language, a libretto, a text, the movements pass almost at the same moment in which they arise. If a viewer doesn’t follow a movement, it slips away without them even noticing it. Notations or video recordings are inadequate means to record this form of performing art. But it is possible to document a brief moment of a choreography with the camera, like freezing a minuscule instant and making it accessible.
  • Performance of "Nelken" by Pina Bausch at the Tanztheater Wuppertal photographed by Ursula Kaufmann © Ursula Kaufmann
    Performance of "Nelken" by Pina Bausch at the Tanztheater Wuppertal photographed by Ursula Kaufmann
  • Performance of "Nelken" by Pina Bausch at the Tanztheater Wuppertal photographed by Ursula Kaufmann © Ursula Kaufmann
    Performance of "Nelken" by Pina Bausch at the Tanztheater Wuppertal photographed by Ursula Kaufmann
  • Performance of "Nelken" by Pina Bausch at the Tanztheater Wuppertal photographed by Ursula Kaufmann © Ursula Kaufmann
    Performance of "Nelken" by Pina Bausch at the Tanztheater Wuppertal photographed by Ursula Kaufmann
  • Performance of "Nelken" by Pina Bausch at the Tanztheater Wuppertal photographed by Ursula Kaufmann © Ursula Kaufmann
    Performance of "Nelken" by Pina Bausch at the Tanztheater Wuppertal photographed by Ursula Kaufmann
  • Performance of "Nelken" by Pina Bausch at the Tanztheater Wuppertal photographed by Ursula Kaufmann © Ursula Kaufmann
    Performance of "Nelken" by Pina Bausch at the Tanztheater Wuppertal photographed by Ursula Kaufmann
  • Performance of "Nelken" by Pina Bausch at the Tanztheater Wuppertal photographed by Ursula Kaufmann © Ursula Kaufmann
    Performance of "Nelken" by Pina Bausch at the Tanztheater Wuppertal photographed by Ursula Kaufmann
  • Performance of "Nelken" by Pina Bausch at the Tanztheater Wuppertal photographed by Ursula Kaufmann © Ursula Kaufmann
    Performance of "Nelken" by Pina Bausch at the Tanztheater Wuppertal photographed by Ursula Kaufmann
  • Performance of "Nelken" by Pina Bausch at the Tanztheater Wuppertal photographed by Ursula Kaufmann © Ursula Kaufmann
    Performance of "Nelken" by Pina Bausch at the Tanztheater Wuppertal photographed by Ursula Kaufmann
  • Performance of "Nelken" by Pina Bausch at the Tanztheater Wuppertal photographed by Ursula Kaufmann © Ursula Kaufmann
    Performance of "Nelken" by Pina Bausch at the Tanztheater Wuppertal photographed by Ursula Kaufmann
  • Performance of "Nelken" by Pina Bausch at the Tanztheater Wuppertal photographed by Ursula Kaufmann © Ursula Kaufmann
    Performance of "Nelken" by Pina Bausch at the Tanztheater Wuppertal photographed by Ursula Kaufmann
  • Performance of "Nelken" by Pina Bausch at the Tanztheater Wuppertal photographed by Ursula Kaufmann © Ursula Kaufmann
    Performance of "Nelken" by Pina Bausch at the Tanztheater Wuppertal photographed by Ursula Kaufmann
  • Performance of "Nelken" by Pina Bausch at the Tanztheater Wuppertal photographed by Ursula Kaufmann © Ursula Kaufmann
    Performance of "Nelken" by Pina Bausch at the Tanztheater Wuppertal photographed by Ursula Kaufmann
For me, the beauty of the moment is at the center of my photography. I am open to the moment and allow myself to be surprised. This means that I can react from my own emotion. In the special case of the Pina Bausch photos, they should take the viewer back to the piece or make them want to see it. I am at home in dance theatre with my photography because I am not interested in the technique of the dance, but in the introspection of the dancer, through which I try to understand the piece. Static photographs, as in architecture or landscape, have their charms. But what challenges me is the movement. It’s exciting to catch the right moment.
 
Here is another quote by the late Jochen Schmidt, a dance critic with the FAZ:
“So why do I always let myself in on writing about Pina Bausch – like in this foreword to a new illustrated book by the esteemed photographer Ursula Kaufmann? Is the reason perhaps the fact that – at least for me – even at the beginning of the 21st century the choreographer still represents something that I wrote 23 years ago in the foreword to another Pina Bausch book, the one by Hedwig Müller and Norbert Servos, where I described it as a latent challenge? 'Bausch doesn’t make excuses, nor does she allow the viewer to do so. For everyone, including her critics, she is a constant reminder of our own inadequacy, a permanent annoyance, a constant challenge to give up our daily grind and intellectual sloth, to throw our carelessness overboard and to begin again with mutual trust, mutual respect, consideration, partnership'. Pina Bausch’s works, as I saw it then and still see it, trigger consternation and made it necessary for us to take sides: either for or against her.”
(Foreword for my publication Pina Bausch und das Tanztheater Wuppertal, Müller und Busmann, 2002)
 
My first encounter with Pina Bausch was in 1975 with The Rite of Spring. Ever since, my fascination with the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch has been steadfast. The revivals of earlier pieces show they have lost almost nothing of their relevance with their universal themes of fears, abandonment, love and longing between the sexes, as we just experienced in the revival of 1977’s Bluebeard in January 2020.
Danse Danse, Montreal

 

Ursula Kaufmann

Born in Essen in 1945 and trained as a business clerk, she discovered her love for theatre and photography as a teenager. But it wasn’t until 1984 that the striking blonde with a classic ballerina’s tight topknot combined both passions in a career. She had a big dream: “Just once I want to be able to photograph Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal!” Ever since she saw Bausch’s choreography of The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du printemps to the music of Igor Stravinsky) in 1975, the powerful imagery, multifaceted original movements and the charismatic individuality of the dancers never let her go. “I love these Wuppertal dancers. You never forget their expressive faces,” raves the internationally long-renowned photographic artist.

Ursula Kaufmann Ursula Kaufmann | © Ursula Kaufmann She is in demand from the Ruhrtriennale to the Salzburg Festival and the Opéra Nationale de Paris. Her photos of productions from all branches of the theatre are printed in the world’s biggest newspapers, including Le Monde, El Pais and The New York Times. Solo and group exhibitions in Germany and around the world – for example in Kyoto, Casablanca, Istanbul and New York – document the many contemporary choreographers whose work Kaufmann captures in pictures. “I like to photograph people,” she explains plainly. “Dance has always been the greatest and most fascinating thing for me. Because there is something magical about capturing human movement. You can’t foresee what’s coming.”
 
Above all, the photographer’s heart beats for Pina Bausch and her ensemble. Kaufmann has been designing a Pina Bausch dance calendar every year since 2004 and is the author of the large-format, perpetual Bausch calendar issued by Edition panorama (2010 and 2021). She has published three photographic volumes so far: Nur Du – Ursula Kaufmann fotografiert Pina Bausch und das Tanztheater Wuppertal in 1998, deliberately named after Only You, the American work of the same name by Pina Bausch; Ursula Kaufmann fotografiert Pina Bausch und das Tanztheater Wuppertal (2002) and Getanzte Augenblicke – Ursula Kaufmann fotografiert Pina Bausch das Tanztheater Wuppertal (2005). Indeed, Kaufmann captures the elegance, vibrancy, colourfulness and melancholy of the Bausch pieces as authentically as few others.
 
The photographer’s first personal meeting with the legendary choreographer was “completely trivial”, recalls Kaufmann. She was introduced almost in passing to the taciturn, shy icon of dance. When Bausch saw Kaufmann’s photos for her first planned book, it was “a kind of love at first sight because we had the same way of working” – nothing feigned, everything genuine, precise pictures. For almost three hours, Bausch authorized the selection of photos for Nur Du, calmly explaining every “yes,” “no,” “maybe” in detail. “She didn’t want to use one of my favourite photos,” Kaufmann remembers. The reason: “There was no eye contact with the dancers, which was essential in that scene.”
 
With the Hungarian piece Meadowland, too, Kaufmann learned how crucial psychological or practical details were for Bausch’s detailed artistry. In the dress rehearsal, the spirited dancer Fernando Suels Mendoza spontaneously stormed into the orchestra, grabbed the photographer and invited her to join him in the famous Bausch diagonal on stage. “I was in seventh heaven, I felt like Cinderella in the prince’s arms,” laughs Kaufmann with slight self-deprecation. Sadly, however, Bausch did not include this act in the production. For a prosaic reason, the photographer speculates: the selected audience member might be wearing a skirt that was too tight to be able to dance along with the troupe.
 
In 2005, Kaufmann spent a week accompanying the rehearsals for Orphée et Eurydice with the Ballet de l’Opéra national de Paris in its Paris rehearsal rooms with Pina Bausch. But they didn’t really grow any closer. Bausch was too withdrawn, too absorbed in her ideas. Her death was bitter. At least the work of the Tanztheater Wuppertal continues with undiminished global success. And Ursula Kaufmann is still seated in the middle of the first row of the orchestra in the Wuppertal Opera House during the dress rehearsals for the new productions and revivals. “Even if I were sick, I wouldn’t miss any of these unique encounters and experiences.”
 

Marieluise Jeitschko (translated by Faith Gibson)

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