Pina Bausch: Nelken, Sadler's Wells, London

The wealth of carnations
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The Independent Culture

"Nelken" are carnations, and in Pina Bausch's dance-theatre piece, the floor is carpeted with them. At Sadler's Wells, the stage is extended far into the front stalls, making a long vista of crumpled pink blossom. The dancers, wearing evening dress and carrying chairs, step carefully over the flowers.

"Nelken" are carnations, and in Pina Bausch's dance-theatre piece, the floor is carpeted with them. At Sadler's Wells, the stage is extended far into the front stalls, making a long vista of crumpled pink blossom. The dancers, wearing evening dress and carrying chairs, step carefully over the flowers.

Bausch founded her Tanztheater Wuppertal in 1973, and quickly came to international fame. Her dancers talk, scream, clutch vegetables, speak directly to the audience. Early in Nelken, they jump off the stage and invite members of the audience to leave with them. Bausch can be exasperatingly self-indulgent, filling her shows with repetition and random, artful incident. She also creates strange, bold images, strikingly theatrical ideas. She has plenty of imitators, but she isn't quite like anybody else.

Nelken opens with a mood of serene complacency. The dancers set down their chairs and sit, listening to light classical music. It doesn't last. A man steps forward to perform Gershwin's "The Man I Love", spelling the song out in sign language as the soundtrack plays. As the tempo quickens, his gestures become comically frantic.

Four men lead on Alsatian dogs, patrolling the carnation field. The other men change into frocks in pastel satins and chiffons. The men bunny-hop through the flowers, kicking their heels and scampering. At last, Andrey Berezin, soberly suited, pulls one upright and demands his passport.

This is one of Nelken's best moments: the image is bizarre but oddly concrete, funny and alarming. The men pull at their skirts, suddenly self-conscious. Having checked the passport, the authoritarian Berezin says: "You may continue hopping."

It's one of many humiliations. In a long sequence, a man is forced to imitate animal after animal, barking and croaking and screaming like a parrot. All the dancers play a childhood game, screaming abuse and complaint. There are childhood scenes, parents rebuking or punishing their children. Those rebukes are less successful: the point is too obvious. The grimness starts to look smug. A woman screams herself hoarse; several men are forced to bury their faces in chopped onions. Bausch insists on discomfort.

The best scenes have a surreal lilt, put there by Bausch's visual flair. The dancers move their chairs, sit down, stand up again, in unison, in counterpoint. The repetition becomes hypnotic. Bausch's performers are committed and precise, flinging themselves into the humiliations. Yet there's a wide range of performance styles. Berezin is terrifically dry, remaining grim-faced in drag or when chopping onions. Other dancers are winsome. Bausch and her performers can be astonishingly arch; even so, Nelken is strangely, vividly theatrical.

The Henri Oguike Dance Company now has 12 dancers, four of them new. Throughout the programme, the dancing is warm and bold, cleanly projected from the broad stage of the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Oguike, one of Britain's best choreographic hopes, is working on a large scale, and there is a considerable buzz around him. After dancing for Richard Alston, he founded his own company in 1999. He quickly built up a following, winning a range of awards and commissions.

Oguike's style is distinctive, unfussy modern dance, with clear attack and juicy detail. Unlike most choreographers of his generation, Oguike puts emphasis on music, using live musicians whenever possible.

In the new work Second Signal, that means Japanese taiko drums, live on stage. The drums are huge, so loud that the audience squeaks and then giggles at the shock. The Taiko Meantime group are boldly athletic, and Oguike builds them into the dance. The drumming gives some sequences a martial emphasis. The dancers wriggle on their bellies through enemy territory, or walk in procession.

Seen of Angels is another new work, danced to taped excerpts from Handel's Messiah. The dancers, dressed in draped gauzes, flit and spin, with mercurial scampers and changes of direction. The programme includes two earlier works, showing Oguike's range. White Space is a spiky Scarlatti dance, with mocking courtliness in crooked wrists and mincing hips. In Shot Flow, Oguike and Charlotte Eatock move through sculptural poses to Pedro Carneiro's sliding, bubbling marimba score.

Bausch season to Sunday (0870 737 7737). Oguike touring (www.henrioguike dance.co.uk)

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