The tagline of Pina really says it all: ‘Dance, dance or we are lost.’ An incredible journey, the 3-D documentary acts as a tribute to late German choreographer, Pina Bausch. As a revolutionary in the art of modern dance, Bausch managed to change the lives of every person she worked with — young and old dancers from across the globe. And with this stunning re-envisioning of her greatest works, she transcends the dance studio to touch the lives of filmgoers the world over.
The film opens on a stage. With 3-D glasses, it’s actually possible to feel like a member of a live audience. A string of dancers, clad in evening wear pulls itself out of the wings, and crosses the stage like an organic living wave. Gliding along, they move their hands and arms to a simple beat. Throughout the next two hours, the string shows up repeatedly — marching down stairs, balanced on the edge of a cliff. Their welcoming faces appear individually throughout the film, but they always return as a whole. These are Pina’s students.
Written and directed by Wim Wenders, Pina challenges the notions of documentary making. The trailer of the film itself is an emotional ride, but the feature length version is breathtaking. Emotional and enraging — beautiful and harrowing — the dancing explodes in three dimensions. It’s like being in the first row of a dance concert that takes place in the most beautiful places of Europe, but really could be anywhere inside the imagination. Various backdrops — pine forests, overhead tram stations, mountain valleys, industrial lofts, rocky cliffs — are characters themselves, highlighting partnered sequences of romantic and painful dances.
One of the most stunning features of Pina is its approach to keeping the art of dance sacred. Not once throughout the film do we see a person speaking. Each testimonial is a voiceover, showing the student’s face in spectacular close-up as he/she sits in front of a camera. This detail stirs a wondered response of curiosity — we learn more when simply we observe.
Though presented as a showcase of Bausch’s largest masterpieces, the film doesn’t discuss the dances, but rather the dancer experience. True to form, it is left up to the viewer to determine the meaning of the dance, which seems to range from the plight of modern women in male-driven societies to celebrations of love and the challenges of trust.
Recently nominated for The Academy Award for Best Documentary, Pina is not just a film, but a much needed escape from reality. It’s clear that we must dance (or at the very least watch dance) ‘or we are lost’ indeed.