Pina 1 hour 43 mins
Link with trailer:
The truth is that I said a prayer. Not out loud, or even consciously, but the thought went & returned just the same. I was in cyberspace, in my Netflix cue at the time. "Something really good, moving, different.." thought I, and one of Netflix' suggestions caught my eye. This was the one. I saw that it was about dance, ordered it, and popped it to the top so I would see it next. It is a filmic documentary made for Pina Bausch after her passing of her company Tantztheater Wupertal, directed by Wim Wenders. I'm writing this now after having mulled it for about a week.
I'll start with one small thing I would have done differently had I been the director. There is a particular method Wim Wenders used in a previous film "Wings of Desire" which I loved at the time. Angels are able to read thoughts of people in their every day lives. The audio of a man worried about his mother for example, as the camera focuses on the man's worried face; the angel hears & looks on. This technique was also used in Pina with her dancers, instead of an actual interview. People often learn things as they're speaking, especially regarding a loved one who has passed on. It seems to me that straight up interviews would be more fragile, more truthful and yes, more impressive. I understand the desire to present in a different way, but I don't think anything was added by it. Perhaps if I had not seen " Wings of Desire" I would have experienced it differently.
The first piece in which a significant portion is shown, Das Fruhlinsopfer (The Rite Of Spring) at first seemed standard, formulaic Modern Dance. It was excellent, just as that. There is one different element though, the importance of which becomes apparent over time. Seemingly straightforward, a layer of dirt is added to the stage before the dancers take their places. "That's cool." I thought as the dancers bodies ( legs & arms mostly) interacted with the added element, earth. A loaded stage, physically & metaphorically. I watched with interest as the trails of dust born from human movement became visual elements. I imagined both the soft noise it would make, and the smell in the air. Classical ballet and modern dance have very different (though interrelated) traditions, so the usual questions for the viewer of modern dance came up as to where the metaphor starts; are we watching without a fourth wall, dream-like? Or, is there an imaginary setting in an actual field, or prarie? The mysterious red cloth nurtured, feared, & wielded by the feminine, is it love? Is there an actual story? Was there a miscarriage? Was it of an actual fetus, or does it symbolize a greater sense of the idea of miscarriage; some function of emotive injustice? What part does shame play, and selection? The answer of course in the genre of modern dance is that it is both, it is as much as the viewer sees. That is why I personally love it so much!
As I watched I was lightly awestruck about how important the dirt became in the evolution of the piece. It caked on the dancers bodies as they continued to sweat, giving visual voice- an evidence of sorts for emotional strife of both the choreographer & the choreographed.
I just want to interject here that most modern dancers start in the classical ballet, as do most professional dancers who were of a class that could afford the classes.
At some point, they become dissatisfied with the rote and go in other directions to try to find what the soul needs to say. As their preferred mode of expression, they exchange one set of " dance rules" for another, a set that they feel is more truthful, and is in fact a good deal more flexible. Having said that, let me also tell you that dirt does not exist for the ballerina. Not so much as a smudge. If there is so much as a scuff on her exquisite pointe shoe, one can be certain it will be rectified (powdered over) at the soonest offstage opportunity. In the form of "Modern" Dance arguably started by Isadora Duncan, carried and altered by Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Alvin Ailey & others dirt is not acknowledged but also not argued with. These barefoot dancers may well have shadows on their soles, and what of it? Partly, eau de perfection has wafted from classical ballet into modern dance on very subliminal levels, which is natural. Partly, lack of acknowledgement of such things in the modern dance world, at least theoretically, means "Who cares either way?" What Pina Bausch did with dirt, and so simply too, indicates volumes about cultures if we care to listen - far more than I can enter into this tiny review.
The next thing that comes to mind for me is the use of outdoor spaces. Again, in traditional modern dance it's just not done. How Pina & the company felt about them, I don't know. Some performance work is done only to be filmed. I don't know if that was the case here or if an audience was present in those spaces, which is a very different thing & makes a difference in viewer/performer experience.
Another interesting piece was"The Seasons March" which at first I felt was exceedingly stupid. A group (the troupe) of dancers and the audience are instructed in a series of upper body gestures, one for each season. They then walk slowly, in a line, repeating the gestures, projecting out to the audience in a friendly manner. The march is not contained; it goes into public space with the dancers dressed in street finery (not dance costumes). Interestingly, the uniform, serpentine movement becomes fascinating through both repetition, and the gestural variances from dancer to dancer.
There are many other fine pieces showcased, including "The Muller Cafe" which I have only scratched the surface of understanding.
If you are a fan of dance in any way, do yoursoul a favor and dial this one up. It's a beautiful documentary done with so much love on an incredible body of work by Pina Bausch & Tantztheater Wuppertal.