Dance choreography communicates through body language and other visual cues such as set, costume, and lighting. In German filmmaker Wim Wenders documentary Pina (choreographer Pina Bausch), we see the vast canvas in which dance occupies. Opening the film with the camera staring at an empty stage, in an uninhabited theater (Tanztheater, Wuppertal, Germany), dancers rake soil on a stage, while the camera lens focuses on a woman lying on a red cloth. The dancer appears asleep and dreaming, with her body adulating. This dancer’s lyrical movements contrast with the violent thrusts of the other dancers, both male and female. The performance, entitled “Rites of Spring” (not sure if this dance has any relationship to Stravinsky’s “Rites of Spring“), features Pina’s dual themes of strength and fragility. The foreboding scenarios are often repetitive and sexual, alternate between angst, despair, and the absurd.
Alternating between Tanztheater troupe dancers giving one-liners about working with the late Pina (she died of cancer during the filming of this documentary), surreal performance on location and Pina’s highlighted choreography, “Rites of Spring,” “Cafe Müller,” “Contact,” and “Full Moon,” we see Pina’s style in action. Dancers either repeat what appears as simple gestures to the point they become machine like, to running, leaping, sliding across not only a smooth dance floor, but also rocky or watery surfaces, spinning, gyrating, and twirling to a diverse music soundtrack. They dance on concrete, on a commuter train, in grassy parks, water-filled stages, soil, and other natural surfaces connecting humans to the natural world–with hints of paganism.
The overall effect is visceral and breathtaking; at times disturbing such as an older dancer in a pink slinky dress probed, prodded, and lifted by several male dancers dressed in evening wear. Another uncomfortable scene involves a woman dancer with a harness and rope tied around her waist. She tries to escape a dungeon type setting, but the rope keeps pulling her back leaving her in despair. In contrast, exuberant dancers leap, spin, frolic, and slide on a watery stage (“Full Moon”).
Certainly, Wenders’ documentary that focuses on dancers in action instead of talking heads entertains and in some ways, educates viewers. It is hard to imagine anyone not feeling a range of emotions while dancers appear on the edge of sanity as they ride a sky trains in absurd costumes across the city, dance wearing flowing gowns in public places, or on-toe in an industrial setting. We have entered a world rife with emotions and sometimes not easily defined. The dancers catapult and lift our minds. They also make simple gestures appear complicated and complex choreography flowing. Don’t miss Wenders’ tribute to a provocative artist worthy of this Oscar-nominated film.