‘Dance, dance, or we are lost.’ FINALLY, a quote about dancing that doesn’t appeal purely to idiots. ‘Dance like nobody’s watching’? Fuck that, a little self-awareness and you might not be such an atrocious dancer. Besides, we’re tearing this floor to shreds over here and we want EVERYONE watching, what’s up? Pina Bausch, a controversial legend of dance and the focus of this sort-of documentary that she sadly didn’t live to see, is with us on this, and is also an infinitely better choreographer.
It must be said that if you aren’t into dancing and ace cinematography, Pina has nothing for you. But you’d have to be really, REALLY not into them. We’re talking violent, physical reactions here. Because this is, in layman’s terms, really bloody excellent dancing. It’s fluid and spontaneous yet meticulous and precise, organic and human, visceral and kinetic, complex and obscure but somehow accessible. The four main pieces used – sometimes in a linear style, sometimes chopped up and interspersed with smaller, more incidental pieces – are some of Bausch’s most acclaimed creations, and are by extension some of the greatest examples of the Tanztheater (dance theater) style.
You’ll also struggle to find dancing presented more effectively than this. As he did with his sublime 1999 documentary Buena Vista Social Club, director Wim Wenders perfectly marries the film’s content with its aesthetics, matching the bold choreography with equally bold visuals. The action is split between everyday surroundings and carefully prepared stage sets, and colour is used to striking effect for each. Most memorable are a short sequence of a man waltzing up an escalator, shot in sharply contrasting red and deep blue (surely destined to be the new orange and teal), a much longer sequence taking place in a grey room filled with black chairs, and a quite astonishing ballet set to one of the most important pieces of music of all time, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, performed on a stage covered in mud.
But that’s kind of it. Unless there’s a narrative buried deep in the dancing (in which case, five stars, and I shall never attempt to review dancing ever again), then there are just some slightly odd and not particularly revealing talking heads, bizarrely made up of long shots of subjects sitting in silence, with the actual talking overdubbed. As a showcase for her work, Pina is a near miracle. Just don’t expect anything more from it.