Total Theatre Magazine doesn’t often review feature films – but Pina, Wim Wenders’ cinematic homage to the late great Pina Bausch, godmother of experimental dance theatre and director of the Tanztheater Wuppertal, is no ordinary film. More than documentation, more than a tribute, it is an exploration of Bausch’s work that marries dance and film artfully and beautifully.
It was planned as a collaboration between these two extraordinary artists – an exploration of how dance-for-screen or dance-to-camera (pick your favourite label) could move out of the ‘experimental shorts’ ghetto and into mainstream cinema as a fulllength feature. Wenders’ wonderful Buena Vista Social Clubhad raised the benchmark for film that documented live performance, and Pina Bausch, his friend of more than two decades, saw him as the perfect collaborator. A plan was hatched to focus on a number of key Tanztheater Wuppertal works – including Café Mueller, Rites of Spring, and Kontakthof – and to make the film in 3D. Plans proceeded, then two days into the shoot Pina died. The film was at first abandoned, then resurrected, and what has been described as ‘the first 3D arthouse documentary’ eventually emerged.
The bereavement is raw and upfront. Interviews with longterm company members are transposed to voiceovers expressing shock or paying tribute, played over solemnly held shots of silent faces full of sorrow and confusion. The dance works are as cleverly filmed as you’d expect from Wenders: live footage of Pina herself performing in Café Mueller is weaved into footage from the most recent version of the show; and the editing cuts in the Kontakthofsections are a witty play on Bausch’s remaking and remodelling of this seminal work, shifting us from teens to elders and back again with giddying confusion. The 3D is hyped as a key element, and certainly in the big ensemble scenes ofRites of Spring the stage depth is captured very well, but it isn’t the most interesting aspect of the film. By far and away the best scenes are those shot on location in Wuppertal. Solo, or in extraordinary and poignant duets, the dancers (more often than not dressed in ’trademark’ Bausch evening wear) move into, through, over and along the landscape, taking in flyovers, el-trains, dual carriageways, parks, ponds, and hilltops in a series of eerily beautiful and surreal moments that are an homage both to Bausch’s choreography, and to the city to which she remained everloyal. Last word goes to Wenders: ‘Pina had trained her eyes to what the soul can teach us through the body.’ Whether you’re a longterm admirer or new to Bausch’s work – this is a film to be seen.