Passion. Inspiration. Pain. Longing. Such was the story of Pina Bausch. And she told it only one way — through dance. Other than the personal interviews with members of Bausch’s theater company Tanztheater Wuppertal, there’s nothing in “Pina” to suggest that it’s a documentary. Instead, the film is a breathtaking collage of Bausch’s most famous works, translated onto the screen with love and admiration by her dancers.

Pina

At the Michigan
Sundance Selects


How else would you tell the story of someone who told their own story through dance? How else do you portray the life of someone who lived through their art? The only way, the right way, is to let their art do the talking. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, a dance is worth more. That’s how German director Wim Wenders (“Palermo Shooting”) approached Bausch’s life in “Pina.”

A young woman flexes her muscles, saying “I am strong.” There’s pain in her eyes, and she wants to prove her strength. Then she relaxes. The man hidden behind her, who was actually the one flexing his muscles, steps out. The woman brings her hands in front, embraces herself and breaks into dance. She is strong through her dance.

A few minutes later, another woman performs on some stranded rocks in a stream. She’s surrounded by the beauty of hills, of trees, of nature. Out of the river emerges a hippopotamus. She dances for him and then to him. She embraces the big, scary animal. And through dance, she overcomes fear and learns to love the beast.

These inspirational performances are the stories that make up “Pina.” They are the film and its plot. However, they also almost didn’t make it to the silver screen. Bausch and Wenders started collaborating on “Pina” in 2009, only a few months before Bausch’s sudden death. Wenders stopped production, but resumed the project after dancers of Tanztheater Wuppertal convinced him to make the film.

The choice to shoot “Pina” in 3-D was a strange one. At first, it seems like there’s nothing in this film that needs to be given an extra dimension. Until, of course, one sees the dances. These performances were originally designed for the sanctum of Bausch’s theater, and seeing them in 3-D is the only way to do their potency justice. Here, Wenders must be applauded for making such a risky decision that pays off beautifully on screen.

Wenders doesn’t focus much on the interviews, but the few he manages to capture indicate that the pieces the dancers are performing are the ones that most accurately tell Bausch’s story. After performing on the cross-section of two busy roads, a dancer recalls Bausch watching her from the sidelines: “It was like Pina was living every moment with her dancers, sometimes like a child, full of all the feelings we were having.”

After dancing with the hippopotamus, another says “I even identified her with this big, sweet monster. All of her pieces were about love and pain and beauty and sorrow.”

Wenders captures the most important aspects of Bausch’s life — her dancers and the dances she choreographed — with integrity. By focusing solely on performance, he ensures that Bausch’s passion and love for dance flow through the movie undisturbed. The soundtrack, strategically implemented, adds even more depth to the already dramatic performances.

While caught up at times in its own love affair with Bausch, “Pina,” with its beautiful choreography and eye-catching cinematography, is a mesmerizing ode to the power of dance. It lives and breathes by Bausch’s motto: “dance, dance, otherwise we are all lost.”

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