"Dancer" is a loaded word. It brings to mind images of borderline anorexic women with great posture and mutilated toes, or hyper-sexual booty-licious music video girls, or strippers.
Before her death in 2009, Pina (pronounced "Pee-na," not "Peen-ya," for all the Hispanophiles and
tropical drink enthusiasts out there) Bausch
had been the choreographer at the German Tanztheater Wuppertal dance company for 36 years, employing what began as a controversial
aesthetic. Her work became an influential, expressive, and
award-winning take on multidisciplinary, interpretive dance. Wenders
met Bausch in 1985 and was deeply touched by her performances. Their encounters inspired his
Bausch's choreography was unconventional in almost every sense. Members of her company were short, round, old, thin, beautiful, plain, young, dark, and everything in-between. The dances they performed were not stiff ballets with rigid rules, but rather movements they created themselves. Bausch would ask her dancers questions, and they were to answer only with gestures. In a way, she was less a choreographer and more an artist's birthing coach.
Likewise, Pina is a documentary only by the loose definition of the word. It contains plenty of interviews with dancers about their experiences with the choreographer, taped in their multifarious native languages. But the footage that makes up the majority of the film -- performances of Bausch's electric choreography -- was staged just for the recording of Wenders' film, in locations of the director's choosing. The use of 3-D (which Wenders had trouble convincing sponsors to back) is surprising in an art flick, but it makes visual sense from the film's very first dance.
In one of the first scenes, a cluster of female dancers dressed in dirty, flesh-colored dresses rakes through a stage full of soil in what looks like a desperate, primal flurry of synchronized activity. A tribe of men join, and the male and female forces meet, sending nearly-visible rays of energy in divergent directions from each point of impact. As with many scenes throughout the film, the dancers' movements here seem involuntary, as though they were being dragged along by invisible, powerful puppeteers. But at the same time, the performers seem exhausted by the obligatory dance, panting and sweating openly, their faces drawn, as if to suggest that the throes of existence make all of us "dancers" weary. Would you like a side of existential philosophy with that dance?
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In another scene, a lone middle-aged woman is joined by a few men in three-piece suits. She doesn't seem to notice as they poke her, prod her, and tweak her nose with their pointer fingers. More men join in, taking turns putting their hands on her and twiddling her nose, moving faster and faster and faster still. The act is very funny -- we actually laughed out loud -- until the woman's face begins to fall, imperceptibly slowly, amid the frenzied activity. It's amazing the effect the minute change in her facial expression had on how we perceived the dance; suddenly, the scene went from clownish horseplay to a sort of figurative gang rape. And so it would seem Bausch was a bit of a social psychologist, on top of her many other talents.
"Tanz, tanz. Sonst sind wir verloren," Bausch is quoted as saying, meaning "Dance, dance. Otherwise we are lost." It seems that for Bausch, who's described by many of her students and Wenders himself as an intense workaholic, all of life was dancing. According to the film, her lifelong library of dance was so brilliant, only an artist possessed by her craft could have been behind it. Pina is not just a beautiful portrait of a woman who made a valuable contribution to the art world and deeply affected both her dancers and her audiences. It's a film that will change your ideas about what dance is, and what it can be.
The Coral Gables Art Cinema will host an opening night red carpet event for Pina with screenings at 7 and 10 p.m. on Friday, February 17. Miami-based Octavio Campos and dancers will perform a short piece in homage to Pina Bausch at the start of each screening, and German Consul General Eva Alexandra Countess Kendeffy will introduce the film, for which the German Consulate is a co-sponsor. Between the two screenings, a reception will take place from 9 to 10 p.m. on the Cinema's outdoor plaza with complimentary food and cocktails for anyone who purchases a ticket for either show. Tickets to this special event cost $20. The film runs through February 23, and regular tickets cost $14. Go to gablescinema.com or call 786-385-9689.