In Pina, Bausch’s Company Takes Center Stage

12/21/2011 4:00 AM |

Directed by Wim Wenders

Pina, despite its title, is more concerned with a group than an individual. Begun days before the renowned contemporary choreographer Pina Bausch died at age 68 in 2009, and completed by her longtime friend, filmmaker Wim Wenders, at the encouragement of the members of her company, it’s as much a series of filmed performances as it is a talking-heads documentary. In fact, Wenders deliberately avoids conventional doc formatting, presenting portraits of each member of Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, head on and lips sealed, while their voiceover begins, offering fragments of Pina’s process while beautifully staged and shot pieces play out.

Some of the dances are performed on conventional stages—inasmuch as a stage featuring only a shallow pool of water, Olafur Eliasson-esque waterfall and giant boulder can be considered conventional—while others are performed on the streets and floating trams of Wuppertal, in homes and halls, or in nature. Several dozen dancers shuffle around a large ballroom in one; in another a man and woman playfully chase each other out of a Philip Johnson-like glass house. Perhaps the most memorable solo piece finds a man clambering up the side of a quarry, stopping on a ledge to perform a manic, playful dance, before trudging the rest of the way up the steep slope. Wenders shifts from close-ups to distant compositions, capturing the dancers’ larger movements while highlighting the small, cyclical and often very funny gestures they repeat.

The portrait eventually assembled by these performances and often oblique commentaries suggests a very serious artist who nevertheless knew her art didn’t always have to be serious to endure. It describes an entire family of dancers, many of whom spent decades at Bausch’s side or were literally born into the company, and how this intimately connected troupe developed their dances organically and collaboratively—one dancer recalls that a specific expression he created so pleased Bausch that it spawned an entirely new sequence. The 3D emphasizes the visual pleasures of the variously surreal and formal stagings, underlining both Wenders’ use of depth of field and Bausch’s tendency to have many actions occurring simultaneously at various places in the performance space, encouraging our eyes to wander. While it’s not the biographic documentary some might have hoped for, Pina‘s a thorough and exquisite crash course in Bausch’s unique choreography.

Opens December 23