Friday, December 14, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Pina (2011) ****

PG, 104 min.
Director/Writer: Wim Wenders
Starring: Pina Bausch, Tanztheater Wuppertal Dance Company

I’m pretty sure that, in the event of an apocalyptic event where survival will be determined by the fittest among us, dancers will rise as the ruling class. These people are more than athletes. They are more than artists. They use everything there is of their physical instrument to express in an art form that a relatively small amount of people really pay much attention to.

I myself haven’t really watched any dance since my days as a student in the theater arts department at Hofstra University. What a blessing the film “Pina” is to have. German director Wim Wenders worked for years with the dance choreographer Pina Bausch to develop a performance documentary that would accurately convey visually what her dance productions expressed. Her sudden death in 2009 almost derailed the production, but the dancers of her Tanztheater Wuppertal insisted Wenders continue with the project. What a gift they’ve given us.

Wenders chose to film in 3D, which might seem unusual for a documentary, but I imagine would benefit a production like this one immensely. Unfortunately, I was unable to see the film in 3D (a notion I don’t often call unfortunate). Still, the images and presentation are stunning. The film reproduces four of Pina’s pieces, intercuts some archival footage of the original productions and Pina instructing her dancers, and features impressionistic profiles of some of the Tanztheater dancers.

My only complaint is that I wanted to see more of the dancing. That is not a weakness of the film but a strength. Wenders did not set out to simply film a performance. He uses the medium of film to present dance in a different way, not simply as a reproduction of a performance, but as an intimate examination of the creators of the dance.

Pina is the primary focus as the visionary choreographer she was, but the dancers themselves are given as much consideration as their artistic product. I was surprised at the age of some of the dancers. Some had been with Pina since she first began her influence in the late 60s. You wouldn’t know it from their physical presence. There is also such an international span of representation amongst them. In voice over the many different languages spoken include German, Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin, and English.

Mostly, it is the bold audacity of Pina’s choreography and composition that leaves the biggest impression. Wenders features many scenes shot on location in and around the town of Wuppertal, which goes a long way to explain how Pina conceived of such dynamic presentation. The geography surrounding her informs much of her dramatic vision. That is what we are ultimately left with from this influential artist. Wenders chose well in his subject matter. His presentation of that subject is just as original as Pina herself.

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