Modern dance from Germany in 3D
Wenders’ appropriately austere, stylized documentary about the German modern dance master Pina will appeal to her fans and students of her work. Philippina “Pina” Bausch, who was born in 1940, was a German performer of modern dance, choreographer, dance teacher and ballet director. She died in 2009, suddenly after a cancer diagnosis, having collaborated on this film. Wenders’ film which is in 3D, presents a continuum of Pina’s work, usually ensemble dance pieces in a stylized modern urban setting. As the film progresses a succession of Pina’s dancers are seen facing the camera in front of the stage of dancers as a voiceover of that person reminisces or speaks of Pina’s influence on him or her. The style of the film is as pared down as the style of the dances.
Featured in the film are two of Pina’s most noted dances, both originally from the Seventies, first, a version of Igpr Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in which the stage is covered with soil and the ensemble, in loose robes, make energetic, sweeping arm movements; next the lengthy and complex Café Müller, wherein dancers move sometimes haltingly around the stage crashing into tables and chairs arranged as in a cafe that themselves are moved about.
The Pina style is highly surrealistic. Pina Bausch’s company Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch acquired a global reputation and influence while touring the world, and debuted in the US at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the mid-Eighties. The work makes use of elaborate sets and multiple media. The gestures of the dancers often have a mime quality. One of the pieces is featured in Almodóvar’s film Talk to Her, in which it helps to establish that film’s strange, surreal feeling.
Not being a fan of modern dance or previously acquainted with Pina I found this film intriguing in some ways, off-putting in others. The dancers seemed often very gaunt and sad looking. Some ensemble movements even suggested a crowd of concentration camp survivors. Personally I rather missed the earlier much warmer Carlos Saura music and dance films, the 1995 Flamenco and the 1998Tango and his Fados (NYRR 2007), which are all enormously entertaining. It seemed to me that relatively speaking this film worked less as musical and dance entertainment and more as a record and homage. However, given Wenders’ many fans and Pina’s iconic status, this film will have an audience. The 3D here was, arguably, smoother than its use in the NCM Fathom “event” last summer of “Giselle” presented by the Mariinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg. Nonetheless it seemed again that dancers appeared Photoshopped onto backgrounds at times and the value of onscreen-with-tinted-glasses 3D to cover performance events still eludes me. But other viewers at the screening were already admirers and enthusiastic about the film. They urged me to try a second look. .
Pina has been shown at a number of international festivals, starting with Berlin in February 2011 and interspersed with releases in a number of countries. It is included in the New York Film Festival in October 2011, where it was screened for this review.