Pina Bausch was a German choreographer who specialized in modern dance. She was the director for the Tanztheater (“dance theatre”) Wuppertal which focused on a particularly avant-garde expressionist version. In 2009, Pina was preparing to collaborate with German director Wim Wenders on this documentary. They were in the early preparatory stages when she suddenly died at the age of 68, five days after being diagnosed with cancer. Heartbroken he abandoned the project. However following the encouragement of the dancers from her company, he was inspired to continue making a film about her, even if it couldn’t feature her. Instead those same performers who had worked with Pina, could provide testament to her genius, Their words heard as background narration while their visages stare into the camera’s lens.
The picture presents four of Pina’s most noted pieces in her style. Regrettably, Pina is rarely seen and there is precious little insight into the woman herself. What Wim Wenders’ has decided, is to let the performances speak for her. As a biography on what must be a fascinating woman, it’s sadly lacking. However as a work of art, it’s captivating. Pina is not so much an informative document as it is an affirmation of the artistry of Pina Bausch. The film highlights four of her most signature pieces on a stage with silhouettes of the audience sitting at the bottom. Among the works introduced is the poignant Café Müller (1978) in which performers stumble around the stage crashing into tables and chairs. Other minor pieces are filmed outdoors. In each case, Pina uses every inch of space in her choreography to allow her dancers to convey feeling. I know nothing about this art form, but that didn’t stop me from being continually mesmerized by the dancers’ work. Their emotion is palpable.
Wim Wenders’ has done a tremendous job in bringing Pina’s artistry to the screen. The director has used cranes and steady cams to capture the dance as if we were in the middle of the production. He’s also chosen to shoot the film in 3D. It’s not required to enjoy the spectacle, but certainly highly recommended. The addition of the 3D format significantly adds to the feeling of being there on stage. The technically complex choreography of the troupe is even more impressive. Every time a new piece unfolded on screen I was transfixed not only by the dancing, but also by the creative cinematography and the beautiful music. By the end, one realizes this is merely a series of performances. There is no narrative about the woman herself to truly get us emotionally involved. Personally I can only get so excited about modern dance. However, before Pina, I had never heard of the choreographer and now I am a fan. Wim Wenders has made a hypnotic document to the legacy of an incredibly talented individual. Without words he presents a moving elegy full of feeling. Pina is a heady mix of her artistry and Wim Wenders’ direction.