Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Seeing Pina

I hadn't seen a 3-D movie since the deep sea extravaganza at the Imax where we all tried to catch the fish in front of our eyes. It was fun, but what exactly was the point? 3-D is not 3-D: it's the illusion of it, an evocation of being there when we are not. So, attending Wim Wenders's Pina, it's hard to avoid cynicism when the screen instructs us to don our special glasses. Yet Pina's own words tell us within the first few minutes that dance is an evocation of experience. So, too, are words. All we can do is...evoke. Now it begins to make sense, and the magic is ready to start.

But wouldn't Pina be just as magical without the 3-D? I suspect it would, because the beauty of Wenders's filming has never let us down before and certainly doesn't do so now. Pina is indeed an evocation: Pina Bausch herself died almost two years ago and this is no documentary, since Wenders tells us nothing of her life or career. Instead he lets her choreography, her dancers and her company's home surroundings of Wuppertal pay tribute through image and only the sparest of words.

The dance rarely stops. Thanks to the 3-D we seem to be on stage amongst the dancers during Bausch's devastating choreography of The Rite of Spring, or riding on the odd dangling Wuppertal monorail to witness a little street theatre: one dancer wears donkey ears while another gets up to all manner of peculiar things with a pillow. Sometimes muslin curtains waft in front of our noses; at other moments we nearly feel the autumn leaves blowing out of the screen, or seem to smell the water that flies around the stage in the dazzling, magnificent and fabulously funny Full Moon.

Pina Bausch is glimpsed in existing film, for little more than seconds. Her dancers each pay a brief and beautiful tribute to her - they are an international crowd of many different shapes, sizes and ages, unified by their devotion to Bausch and her dance style. The latter may look wild, free and zany, but is phenomenally demanding: it requires incredible control, an all-giving and all-taking matter in which if you lose your sense of humour you will quickly be lost too. This is dance as the ultimate human expression, able to travel from high comedy to tragedy and insanity within two blinks: every millimetre of finger or toe contains the very essence of emotion. Marius Petipa, eat your heart out.

Bausch was an artist ahead of her time - it is only now, and largely thanks to this movie, that a wider public appears to be waking up to her astounding work. It has taken a cinematic legend to send her mainstream - and if the 3-D is a gimmick, it's a good one, well-handled and more appropriate than some of us expected. Wenders's poetic touch is assured, luminous; you can go in knowing nothing of Bausch and still come out moved. The dancers' devotion to her and her work says it all. Amazing how two-dimensional Finchley Road appeared on exit.

The film's website has all the background information one might wish for, here. Meanwhile, perhaps we need filmmakers of genius to transform performance art of all types for this still-new century.

"Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost..."