For those who like getting caught in the rain
When the enigmatic German choreographer Pina Bausch died suddenly in 2009 director Wim Wenders decided to change the nature of Pina from a film with Bausch into a film for Bausch. The extraordinary result is a gently evolving visual hommage of her choreographic ideology.
The little we learn verbally of Bausch comes from her talented array of Tanztheater Wuppertal dancers but apart from a penchant for an early morning coffee and a sandwich we gain no real sense of the human behind the deity. Like she was some kind of psychic guru who could peer into their very souls her disciples relay their thoughts of her through the few pearls of wisdom that she passed on to them, sometimes as often as every twenty years or so. Consequently, as she communicated to the world almost entirely through dance Pina reflects this by almost entirely telling her story through dance.
Focussing on four of Bausch’s key works Café Müller, Le Sacre du printemps, Vollmund and Kontakthof, much has been made of Wenders’ decision to place most of the dancing in various locations around Wuppertal but cinematically it works a treat and helps Wenders’ quest in creating a new aesthetic for three dimensional movie-making. On the whole he’s resisted the temptation of dancers lunging towards the camera in favour of using backgrounds and locations to create three-dimensional atmosphere, in much the same way as painted sets do in the theatre. The exception is the astonishingly beautiful sequence from Vollmund where the splashing water is allowed to chandelier towards the lens in a make-you-wipe-the-water-from-your-glasses sort of way.
But is 3D a good format to show dance? In the hands of a skilled director such as Wenders, yes. Bausch’s highly stylised choreography means that the artificiality of the dancers positioning is already part of the package and can be altered to suit without seeming forced. The uncomfortable close-ups and enhanced use of sound (to the extent where even a nose being squashed squelches through loud and clear) emphasise the claustrophobic and painful nature of much of Bausch’s work and bring an unforgiving clarity to the sheer physical effort of the dancers. There is also plenty of exquisite imagery on display but it will be interesting to see how it all transfers to a 2D DVD when (or if) it gets released as such. Furthermore it will be informative to see whether the restrictions of space and sacred choreography in the confines of a theatre will encumber or enhance traditional live Classical 3D performances such as Swan Lake.
Pina is a magnificent achievement, easily the best film about dancing yet produced. The fact that Bausch herself is largely absent from the film, remaining as mysterious to me at the end as she was at the start, is probably the way she’d have wanted it; as she told a new company dancer confused by her methods – you need to pull yourself up by your own hair.