Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pina: Dance, Out of the Theater and Out of the Screen

Directed By: Wim Wenders
Featuring: Members of the Tanztheater Wuppertal
Director of Photography: Helene Louvart, Editor: Toni Froschhammer, Production Designer: Peter Pabst, Original Music: Thom Hanreich
Rated: PG for dancing, I assume.

            Now two years into the “three dimensional revolution,” the style has finally arrived in its most luscious and perfected use in Pina, a dance documentary from Wim Wenders, featuring the choreography of Pina Bausch. 3D became the next step in cinema after James Cameron’s Avatar, but since then, directors have struggled to find an art in creation space and depth, while studios have thrown it on top of films without any care for what use of 3D should be. Even skillful directors like Werner Herzog (Cave of Forgotten Dreams), Martin Scorsese (Hugo), and Steven Spielberg (The Adventures of Tintin) haven’t particularly cracked the 3D bubble in a way that occasionally wows but often remains flat. What exactly are we supposed to do with all this space?

            But Mr. Wenders, who has made a name both as a director of narratives (Wings of Desire) and concert documentaries (The Buena Vista Social Club), understands why 3D should be used: complete spectacle. The same could be said for the choreography of the late Ms. Bausch, whose choreography defies most structures of what we understand as dance—breaking our understanding of tradition for something new and inventive. And thus, the marriage of the two artists—Ms. Bauch as the creator and Mr. Wenders as the capturer—makes for pure magic in this total extravaganza.

            As someone who has watched only a few ballets, modern dance was more or less alien to me as I sat down with my 3D glasses sitting awkwardly on my face. And describing what Ms. Bausch does is somewhat difficult. The dancers don’t as much move as much as they live. They’re performances, as they move around chairs, or attempt to fall in love, or grive in a corner, less choreographed motion than organic performance. Mr. Wenders smartly takes his camera out of the audience and onto the stage, allowing us to see the not just the physical performance, but the facial performance is detailed as well.

            But it is more the inventiveness of the set pieces by Ms. Bausch than the camera work of Mr. Wenders that shines. Dancers fly through the air elated with joy. They pound the ground, as if screaming for release. Lovers support each other from collapsing to the ground. Mr. Wenders smartly relieves himself of the theatrical space for a number of the works, taking them out into the world and making them part of life, refusing the divorce us from the world they inhabit. And along with the excellent score and soundtrack, the work hooks you in as you try to understand the wonder.

            Pina, as described earlier, is also the first film to understand why spectacle is the only appropriate use of 3D. The more breathtaking sequences often feature dancers arms and legs flying in and out of the screen. One dancer often explodes from the screen, while others fall behind in the space. This effect does return Pina to some of its theatricality, but it also gives you a sense of “wow” that few filmmakers can do when using the somewhat puzzling format.

            Pina loves that sense of wonderment, of showing you something that disregards explanation, much less any sense of logical cohesion. It’s a shame that Mr. Wenders decided to include a number of interviews with the dancers of Ms. Bausch’s troupe, each one explaining why the choreographer was so legendary. Explanation is certainly not necessary; it’s all in the movements of their bodies. 

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