Like his compatriot and contemporary Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders has alternated fiction with documentary filmmaking across his long career. Besides the hugely popular Buena Vista Social Club (1999), made with guitarist Ry Cooder, Wenders has made documentaries about artists he admires including musicians on both sides of the Atlantic, film directors Yasujiro Ozu and Nicholas Ray, and more recently, Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado. Wenders has spoken at length about the impact that dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch’s work had on him when he first encountered it in 1975, his subsequent long friendship with her, and the long production history of this documentary (1). This long journey involved Wenders’ search for an adequate cinematic way of capturing the emotional impact of Bausch’s creations and experimental processes with her dancers, the effect on the project of her sudden death in 2009, the later decision to carry on without her at the request of her family and company, the learning curve of shooting in 3D for the first time, and the process of editing many hours of footage into the final version.
Pina (2011) is a labour of love, a celebration of Bausch’s work and a testament to her impact not only on the world of dance but on the lives of individuals. It was widely credited with advancing the possibilities of 3D beyond its more common use for action-spectacles or animation. When first becoming acquainted with Bausch’s work, Wenders felt that her ability to create or decipher movement was far superior to his own as a film director, and that traditional film forms would not do her work justice (2). He has stated that 3D was his format of choice to help replicate the immersive, physical experience of his first viewing of Bausch’s work. After completing Pina, Wenders has remained committed to 3D (“this fantastic language”), and has now directed a drama in the format, Every Thing Will be Fine (2014), and a collaborative project on iconic buildings, Cathedrals of Culture (2014) (3).
It is fitting that Wenders wanted to find an appropriate, and “new”, cinematic way for rendering Bausch’s uniqueness and innovations in the field of dance. Her work emerged out of the experimentation within both theatre and dance in Europe in the ’60s and ’70s, where she began her career, and in the United States, where she spent further formative years. Eventually she became the director of the German dance company previously headed by Kurt Joos, one of the pioneering figures in the combination of dance and theatre (“Tanztheater”) (4). Eschewing the search for the aesthetic beauty and impeccable technique of classical dance, and absorbing the expressionistic experiments within theatrical stage production and performance characteristic of the time, Bausch’s work involved improvisation, and incorporated the dancers’ input which she elicited through questions, prompts, or exploratory exercises, as well as her and her dancers’ autobiographies. Emotional expression and engagement is the essence of Bausch’s work. Unlike classical dance, choreography for Bausch was not an aesthetic arrangement of movement, but the exploration of movement as a revelation of subjective experience (5).
Wenders’ documentary tackles the challenge of doing justice to Bausch’s extensive oeuvre, as well as her way of working. It incorporates sections from four major works in the following order: The Rite of Spring, Café Muller, Kontakthof and Full Moon. These four landmarks of contemporary dance illustrate both the range and the recurrent preoccupations of her work, particularly the relationships between women and men, our human need for kindness and understanding, with giving and taking as two sides of the same coin. Café Muller probably illustrates the concept of Tanztheater best, at least within the documentary, foregrounding the use of props and the role of dancers as actors more clearly than Wenders’ rendition of the other three. While Bausch’s choreography to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring outlines the anguish of the theme of sacrifice within a community, as well as the pull of the earth on a bare stage, Full Moon makes spectacular use of unadorned elements such as rocks and water, and allows the dancers more individualised routines within it. Wenders’ filming of Kontakthof, a work to which Bausch returned throughout her career with different groups of dancers, often not professional, is a wonderful blend of the theatrical (the bare stage, the outline of the audience) and the cinematic (the editing weaves images of young, middle aged and old dancers completing the same movement) (6).
These four works, alongside “Seasons”, provide the documentary with its backbone, but importantly these pieces are interspersed with testimonies of the ensemble, and performances in a range of interiors and exteriors around the city of Wuppertal where the dance company was based. Bausch often incorporated the ideas and impressions elicited by different locations into her work while on tour with her company, but Wenders stays within the area that was the home for her Tanztheater. Bausch’s most frequently quoted statement about her working process with her dancers was, “I am not so interested in how they move as in what moves them” (7). One dancer narrates how Bausch wanted him to produce a movement that expressed joy, later used in Full Moon; other dancers talk about love, dreams, fear, anger or madness. Wenders chooses the dancers’ words very sparingly, and they are spoken in voiceover. These still portraits of the extraordinarily mixed company, including dancers of all ages and from all over the world, are a counterbalance to the dance sequences, and a wonderful illustration of Wenders’ belief in the power of 3D for uses beyond action-spectacle. Their faces gain a corporeality that in turn links with a celebration of the magnificence of the human body in dance. The pieces performed by the dancers (many of them inspired but not created by Bausch) also illustrate the company’s inclusive approach to music, which ranges from classical to Latin American folk ballads (8).
Bausch’s delicate and thoughtful face is present in archive footage of rehearsals and performances, and she closes the documentary by waving us goodbye as she moves off stage.
1. Robert Enright, “What the Body Knows: Wim Wenders on the Art and Life of Pina Bausch”, Border Crossings 30.4, December 2011: http://bordercrossingsmag.com/magazine/issue/issue-120.
2. Charlotte Higgins, “Wim Wenders Taps Into 3D for Documentary on Pina Bausch”, The Guardian 13 February 2011: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2011/feb/13/wim-wenders-pina-bausch-documentary.
3. Scott Roxborough, “Berlin: Wim Wenders on How 3D is Drowning ‘in a Lack of Imagination’ (Q&A)”, Hollywood Reporter 2 May 2014: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/berlin-wim-wenders-how-3d-677303.
4. Royd Climenhaga, Pina Bausch, Routledge, London, 2009, pp. 4-5.
5. Malve Gradinger, “Pina Bausch”, Fifty Contemporary Choreographers, ed. Martha Bremser, Routledge, London, 1999, pp. 29-34.
6. The documentary Tanzträume (Dancing Dreams, 2010)by Rainer Hoffmann and Ane Linsel, narrates one of these experiments with teenagers.
7. Climenhaga, p 2.
8. Thanks to Professor of Dance Giannandrea Poesio for pointing out to me that not all pieces were choreographed by Bausch, and also for his overall help with this piece.
Pina (2011 Germany/France/UK 99 mins)
Prod Co: Neue Road Movies/ZDF/Eurowide Film Production Prod: Gian-Piero Ringel, Wim Wenders Dir, Scr: Wim Wenders Phot: Hélène Louvart Ed: Toni Froschhammer Art Dir: Peter Pabst Mus: Thom Hanreich 3D Supervisor: François Garnier
“Cast”: Tanztheater Wuppertal Ensemble