Wim Wenders Projects Dance Theater in 3D
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
The idea of “dance theater” (Tanztheater in German) evolved from expressionist dance in 1920s Vienna, with new forms developing and spreading throughout Central Europe beginning in 1917. The term re-emerged during the 1980s and Pina Bausch, a student of one of the leaders of this school of dance, became a new school practitioner of note. Since the 1970s, kicking off with her run as the artistic director of the Wuppertal Opera Ballet (later renamed the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch), Bausch blended movement, sound and various staging configurations to create her own stamp on modern dance with the members of her troupe.
Her short segments composed with dialogue and action often set in natural environs touched with surreal elements inspired filmmakers like Pedro Almodovar (his movie Talk to Her not only embraces this aesthetic, but presents pieces of the idea to the filmgoing set). Bausch herself, back in 1983, even appeared in Federico Fellini’s And the Ship Sails On.
So it is not surprising that Wim Wenders, director of Wings of Desire and the Buena Vista Social Club (to name two films familiar to stateside audiences) and president of the European Film Academy in Berlin decided to capture Bausch’s unique interpretation of dance theater on film. What is fascinating about his project though was his decision, joining fellow German filmmaker Werner Herzog (Cave of Forgotten Dreams), to shoot in 3D, which has almost exclusively been a technical gimmick/fix for Hollywood genre junkies. Thankfully, Wenders and Herzog see the real potential of these effects to not only immerse audiences in a setting but also to construct a visual foundation between the moving frame and a new heightened experiential realm.
Pina bridges the divide between the audience and the action onstage, much like Bausch’s work. She brought the random nature of the after-hours cafe along with the hills and mountains and the floods into theaters and Wenders further extends the boundaries, exploding outward, while, at the same time, drawing us into those spaces, partnering us with dancers, moving us around the stages or the streets, as if we were another element in the artistic mix. Wenders doesn’t merely conceive of the audience as spectators taking in the action of the art, we are actively engaged in the performance thanks to this third dimensional perspective.
There are four sequences or segments in Pina, each with its own music and locational muses, driven by a host of interviews with members of the troupe. The diversity of nationalities, races, ages and body types cues us in to Bausch’s daring dismissal of social standards. She found beauty and sensuality and grace in the movements of all human bodies and the dancers willingly surrender to her approach, even to the point of shutting themselves off to one or more of their own senses because they realize that such vulnerability will expose stronger and more beautiful expressions within the human experience.
One of the dancers spoke of the power of Bausch’s gaze as performances evolved during practice. Bausch saw the raw emotions as they were born in the dancers in the moment, and that is exactly what Wenders captures in this film. We, the audience, must also be willing to surrender something of ourselves, to feel the blindness, the repetition of movement, the primal sexual energy. We cannot be afraid of it. In fact, the film says that it is part of our forgotten birthright.
Due to Bausch’s untimely death during the preparatory stage of the documentary, Pina feels more like a tribute, but even in that, it departs from the normal conventions one would expect, because as we watch clips of Bausch performing juxtaposed alongside the contemporary clips, or when we see and hear her comments on her craft and its impact on the world of modern dance, the sense never wallows in sorrow over the loss. Her voice, infused with urgent passion, challenges us all.
“Dance, dance,” she preaches, “otherwise we are lost.”
Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com