Seeing PINA made me realize just how stale Hollywood is. Wenders discards conventional narrative, appropriates the language of movement, using one visual art form to bring forth the immediacy of theatre and the physicality of dance to create a transformative experience. Indeed, this is art, not craft, with its power to transcend, rather than just entertain.
Though words may be used sparsely throughout, when they are spoken, they are extremely poignant. Pina Bausch herself speaks about the dance as something that begins where words end. Dance reveals itself as a landscape, as a language to be learned and felt, where an onlooker, as well as the dancer can read every little gesture. She explains her perception changed when she danced with her eyes closed during Café Müller depending on whether she was looking up or looking down behind the closed eyelids. If she looked the wrong way, she just couldn’t get the right feeling. The piece has dancers, stumbling across a stage littered with chairs, offering a study in loneliness and male-female interaction, which is a central theme to her work.
The theatricality of her pieces seems monumental to the beholder, yet is achieved often through simple means: like the said chairs, a curtain, dancers sporting white briefs as their costume. Then again, during Vollmond (Full Moon), it is raining on stage. The Rite of Spring has the floorboards covered in soil entirely. You are watching a three-way conversation between the director (Wim Wenders), the choreographer (Philippina Bausch) and the set designers (Rolf Borzik, Peter Pabst), and it is a testimony to all of them, that the end result is a seamless, thoroughly engrossing experience. And off course, there is the music, and there are the dancers, who push their bodies beyond pain. The control they command over their limbs is jaw dropping in all its unconventionality.
When one of the dancers announced “Dies ist Kalbfleisch!” (“This is veal!”’), while she displayed the fresh cuts on a butcher’s paper, a few audience members giggled. Yet, as you subsequently watch her do en pointe work over an extended period o time, you realize she is using the veal meat as padding to prevent injury. Your admiration starts mixing with terror which increases with time’s passing, as she dances, and dances, and dances. She moves seemingly effortlessly, maintaining the same intensity, on her tippy toes. She is gliding in an industrial landscape over concrete, the red meat sticking out of her pointe shoes.
The choreographer studied under Kurt Jooss who pioneered the concept of dance theatre. Philippina Bausch expanded upon his work. She incorporated spoken word and set design elements and used music in a way that deferred more to a theatre play or even a cabaret experience, than a classical dance setting. The democracy of it all – forget about ensemble members being weighed and measured. Not only do they come in all shapes and sizes, but also the Tanztheater Wuppertal members represent a wide variety of ages, nationalities, and races. And you do realize how beautiful that is, the almost tactile song of languages spoken by the dancers. You delight in Russian, Slovenian, German, Portuguese, French and English, experiencing them as a part of yourself, an extension of your own language. As these men and women fought for their humanity on stage, as they pulled themselves up by their hair, they fought for me. As I watched them express their longing, loneliness, anger and joy, I felt I understood instinctively more about the human experience than can be expressed through words. I understood Pina’s desire to communicate by dancing and watching. This freedom and confinement that is a body, this gift, and this curse: it all manifested on her stage.
Rich images are offered throughout in saturated color and depth: the glory of the muscles executing a fall, stiffening, relaxing; an arm lifted high up in the air, the weight of a body broken in two into a deep bend; a man carrying another man in his arms, offering support and embrace. The impact, the strength is never diluted.
Andrey Berezin, one of her dancers, described Pina as a painter. She asked him to portray the moon. And so, he went and expressed it, through his movements. They all seemed to understand themselves as an extension of Pina, as she was so strong a presence, she seemed to permeate their very essence. She watched me for 22 years, another dancers states, longer, than my parents did. Her colleague concurs, describing how nice it was to be an older dancer in the Tanztheater. She came to Ruhrgebiet as a 24-year old, she says. The wrinkles that adorn her face now are no inhibition to her performance. This alone offers such an insight into the silliness of Hollywood and its inability to recognize beauty where it truly resides: in the folds of skin that experienced the weather.
The city of Wuppertal plays a role in the film, as well. The beautiful suspended railway (Schwebebahn) is used by Wenders to offer aerial views of streets, and as natural space the dancers can inhabit with their gestures, their breath, the movement of their limbs. A grassy median on a busy street becomes a stage. Sidewalk near an overpass, hot sun, and a golden gown – they are but secondary to the moving bodies. Still, the flowing river, the hills, the abandoned surface mine, they frame the revelation that is communicated: I am gently pushed to discover something I did not know about myself previously.
Wim Wenders managed to astonish. Now, granted, I view 3D as a gimmick. The use of the technology was appropriate at times, no matter how I may personally resent it. Although, honestly, during the close-ups, even in this instance I felt as though someone is holding a few fingers to the tip of my nose, asking me to please look and tell how many. Luckily, the matter of the 3D technology is almost irrelevant in this case.
The director told the story of Pina Bausch, without offering any storyline at all. He succeeded at re-creating her vision, where his ego is invisible; his point of view is secondary to hers, yet this restraint shows congeniality. It is a joy to watch. PINA makes you think, feel, and examine who you are, your relationship to the world at large, your interactions. You begin to understand the care, which should drive your verbal and non-verbal expression. Then an inherent sensuality that lies beneath the surface will become palatable. So, Wenders built a memorial that is alive and vibrant. I am not sorry to repeat myself: a transformative experience, indeed.