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Friday, Feb. 10, 2012
An enchanting paean to Pina, Wim Wenders' cherished German dancer
By KAORI SHOJI
The name Pina Bausch may not strike a chord with many, but even a perfunctory look at her work will lock you in a hold that's layered with emotions: enchantment, enthrallment, even perhaps total bewilderment.
German choreographer Bausch was an artistic giant of the 20th century, whose experimentations with dance and movement altered the way we look at the human body. In her productions, bodies radiated beauty, oddness and defiance and always broadcasted a wealth of meaning. Viewers came away from a Bausch stage suddenly aware of human physicality and how it encases and then unleashes human emotions, with all their mystery and vast diversity.
When Bausch died of cancer in 2009 (she was 68), director Wim Wenders (Bausch's long-time friend as well as enthusiastic fan) had already begun work on the documentary "Pina." Upon her death he called a complete halt to it, but after a brief interval, he picked up the reins again.
In the film's production notes given to reviewers, Wenders talks of a complex and fiery need to tell her story and says he also sensed Bausch's spirit permeating the project. Indeed, the voice-overs of Bausch's troupe talking about their mentor all attest to her dominating, obsession-inducing personality; of how she crawled into their heads and stoked the fire of their passion for dance. The urgency in their voices is so real, you expect that at any moment Bausch will suddenly move into the frame, with her distinct and strange gracefulness.
She would ask her dancers: "What do you find wonderful?" "What is life?" And she would then push them to express the answers with their bodies. She's famed for scenarios that involved situations such as falling in love with a boulder, and trying to explain how that feels — from the boulder's perspective. In an interview with a German TV program, Bausch once said that beauty was the only thing that interested her, and dance was the only way she could come close to attaining it.
Her personal slogan, "Dance, dance ... or we are lost," translates immediately to this movie's message. In the world of Pina Bausch, physical expression was what gave us freedom, and ultimately made us human.
Accordingly, Bausch rarely gave advice — she preferred to demonstrate. In "Pina," members of the troupe say that on the occasions when she did speak, they were overwhelmed and grateful, sometimes to the point of tears. "You just have to get crazier," was one such pearl. And as "Pina" shows, this was followed to the letter.
Wenders gives us 3-D renditions of four of Bausch's pieces, and to the uninitiated, "crazy" may be the only way to describe it. (Dancers cavorting on a stage swimming with water, or explosively contorting on a carpet of peat, are among the eye-openers.) But however weird and incomprehensible Bausch's choreography seems to be, it's impossible to tear the eyes away. You just don't want to miss even the briefest or most deceptively insignificant of movements. And Wenders' choice of using 3-D works to maximum advantage.
Bausch's company, Tanztheater Wuppertal, is one of the most diverse dance organizations in the world, with dancers of every race and at all kinds of ages/stages in their lives. The bodies you see here range from young and lithe to mature and muscular — and one of the outstanding traits of the Tanztheater is a shunning of conventional standards of beauty. This is in polar opposite to say, the Paris Opera Ballet, where the dancers are entrenched in centuries-old discipline and tradition, and the retirement age is set at 40. Bausch's dancers are also liberated from trappings such as shoes, corsets, tutus and other dance paraphernalia. They are mostly barefoot, wear things like wafer-thin summer strap dresses and sometimes don't bother to put on makeup.
That's not to say her dancers aren't disciplined: Wenders shows that Tanztheater is as strenuous and rigorous as any army, but what defines it is the obvious love and passion everyone pours into their art.
In 1989, Wenders released "Notebook on Cities and Clothes," which was a tribute to designer Yohji Yamamoto; the director's interactions with Yamamoto made the film a warm, intimate portrayal of one of Japan's most beloved designers. Fast-forward two decades and this time, there is no interaction. The film is definitely and almost aggressively antipersonal. Wenders has erased himself so that there are only the dancers, carrying out the indomitable will of Pina Bausch. Yet what remains after the lights come on is a real and lovely sadness. Rarely has a documentary felt so close, lingering on the senses like a parting caress.