Pina

How a whimsical film showcases a family built by their choreographer

by Katy Littlejohn

Pina Bausch (1940−2009) , performer, choreographer, creator. Photo by Wilfried Krüger, Germany, 2009.

Pina is a film featured at the TIFF Bell Lightbox until this past January. It honours the work of Pina Bausch, a German choreographer who died suddenly from cancer in 2009, only days after being diagnosed and two days before filming was scheduled to begin on the intended documentary.

The legacy Bausch left behind turns out to be more than that of dance. The film began as a documentary project by filmmaker Wim Wenders, one of many that had already been made by other filmmakers since 1980. The unexpected death of its subject turned the originally intended dance doc into an artistic and heartfelt homage to the talent and passion of the deceased Pina Bausch.

Her company, known as Tanztheatre Wuppertal Pina Bausch is based out of Wuppertal, Germany. “Tanztheatre,” the name of the company as well as the style of the dance they perform, literally translates into “dance theatre.” This definition is incredibly accurate. Watching the various works throughout the film was like watching a play without dialogue. The dancers were actors, or the actors were dancers. The lines between drama and movement were so blurred that one could never question the poignancy of dance.

The staging of the pieces displays an incredible willingness to explore outside traditional confines of a dance stage. In Vollmond (Full Moon), the stage is flooded by a rain shower allowing the performers to dance in the water and show the childlike joy of splashing most of us only catch a glimpse of on a hot day spent at the beach. In Café Müller, the stage is filled with chairs that become both obstacle and opportunity for the dancers who share the stage with them.

Wuppertal, Germany serves as the stage for many of the film’s outdoor dances as well as home to the company. Photo by Christian Kitazume, Germany, 2007

The company is made up of performers from all backgrounds, and age just does not seem to affect who is allowed to dance. The ages of the company’s performers range from children through ladies and gentlemen over 65. It appears that, to be eligible to dance in this company, one must only have the heart to perform and explore.

Each of the dancers featured in Bausch’s choreography is given the opportunity to share their favourite memory or an anecdote about how she impacted them personally or artistically. The connection each dancer seems to have had with their choreographer reveals an astounding level of loyalty and love for a lost leader. Regardless of the age or gender of the speaker, there is nothing but love for Bausch and a sense of how she challenged and loved each of them individually.

The film itself showcases a medley of stage performances, voice-over comments from the company, and found-space performances. The latter features gorgeously costumed dancers performing in various locations around Wuppertal and in various outdoor locations, including parks, sand dunes, and the Wuppertal subway system.

Through the arrangement of these elements, Wenders manages to explore both the darkness of Bausch’s work combined with the evident light-heartedness she projected on stage. There is tragedy and comedy, drama and narrative in her work, and always food for thought. If you enjoy watching a masterpiece of art come to life, look for Pina when it comes out on DVD.

Photo by Sonja Mildner, Netherlands, 2005.

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