Exuberant, sparkling, and wondrously surreal, Pina is a spectacular show of stagecraft; a richly cinematic homage to modern dance and one of its premier authors; and an inspired simulacrum – a jewel-box that contains more of choreographer Pina Bausch’s kinetic soul than film has any right to. Lively and haunting, it’s filmmaking as glorious music.
Pina gives us the supreme pleasure of watching fascinating bodies of widely varying ages in motion, whether catching, diving, leaping, falling, grieving, or exulting. Writer-director Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas, Wings of Desire) films the action in a way that recreates the effect of attending a performance in a proscenium theatre – without having to scrabble for the best seat in the house. No matter where you are, you’re already in it, transported to an alternate state of consciousness. It should appeal to dance mavens, buffs, and enthusiasts excited by an unexpected congregation of artistic pioneers.
Rescuing 3D technology from the world of fantastical storylines and lunging knives, Wenders’ stylish and meticulous use of 3D mirrors Bausch’s bizarrely captivating world and endows the performances with a intimacy and corporeality hitherto unseen in a dance film. As performed by Bausch’s dance company Tanztheater Wuppertal, the work is shot exactingly by Wenders, who captures everything from the grandest gestures to the subtlest nuances in ways impossible in 2D, and in more detail than seeing the dances performed live – putting viewers up close to the spaces, psychic and physical, inside and out, of Bausch’s work.
More unambiguous is the campaign that Pina mounts, with joy and without fuss, against age discrimination. It’s also democratic in its casual efforts to open up the world of modern dance to people who know or care little about it. In its staging of Bausch’s signature works for Wenders’ cameras, it excels and resembles no previous dance film. In both theatrical sets and open-air environments, Wenders pays close attention to the geometrics and psychology of the movement, and pays tribute to Bausch and adventurous image-making.
Pina is so exquisitely made, it suggests thrilling new possibilities for the marriage of movies and dance. The images captured by the film are deeply scary for their loneliness, and crazily thrilling for the intensity of their joy. The result is a panorama of emotion, in which one dancer exhibits pure ecstasy and another severe aching. As Bausch notes early in the film, neither words nor dance alone can describe something; one medium has to pick up where the last has left off. Pina demolishes the invisible wall between film and dance and shatters the barrier that intervenes between seat and stage, even at a live performance.
Ravishingly filmed, Pina is nonetheless more a mood piece than a documentary, and its major flaw is that of most artists: their inability to get out of their own way. The cumulative effect is a bit frustrating, since so many dances are woven together the audience does not have the chance to experience any single work in its entirety. Yet the power and intelligence of Bausch’s approach, at times more cerebral than sensual, is communicated.
Likely the most spirited film about dance since Robert Altman’s The Company, the dazzling, experimental Pina puts us inside people’s feet. If not an essential work of art, it’s a beautiful ode, a delicious feast for the eyes, a unique and sometimes sublime experience, an exhilarating spectacle of bodies in motion that will have culture vultures swooning with delight.