Friday, May 11, 2012

Dancing Fools

PINA

I don't want to be thought of as a Philistine.  Although I can't say that I am well-versed in the worlds of ballet/modern dance, I am aware of certain choreographers.  There's Agnes DeMille, Martha Graham, Jerome Robbins, Alvin Ailey, and Twyla Tharp.  Granted, I couldn't tell you the difference between something DeMille created or something Tharp created, but at least I know OF them.  I, however, had never heard of the late choreographer Pina Bausch, so I went into Pina, the 3-D documentary about her life and works, with a curious mind. 

I found a lot of her work but very little of her life. 

Fraulein Bausch died just as Pina was about to begin, so director Wim Wenders opted to continue the film despite this.  In many ways, Pina would be entertaining if one enjoys watching a series of modern dance numbers (some quite inventive, even spectacular).  However, what could have been a celebration of dance and of the creative force behind it turned into a dry series of presentations that will leave some wondering, "when will it end?"

We start off with a spectacular opening: Fraulein Bausch's dance to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.  After that, the film goes downhill, presenting more dance numbers without giving us an idea as to when/where/how they came to be.  Moreover, we get a strange version of the interview: a series of her dancers are seen, looking around while we hear their voices in various languages (I heard French, German, English, Spanish, and I think Japanese).  They all talk about how great Bausch was, what an inspiration she was, and yet...

and yet we never actually get the sense as to how/why they were so enraptured by her.  We don't know what drove her, her creative well, or how she came to find herself at the forefront of contemporary choreography.  For all the love, even passion Bausch inspired among her dancers, we never get to know who Bausch is, or anything about her either personally or creatively (apart from her dances).

I am willing to accept that perhaps Wenders didn't want us to know her as a person but instead simply her creations.  If that's the case, why not just present Pina as a concert film rather than a documentary?  For the longest time, I thought Pina was her last name. 

The woman, both public and private, was nowhere to be seen in Pina, to where she might not have bothered to have existed.  Therefore, when we see her great dances, we soon become lost as to what exactly is going on.  For example, in the Cafe Muller number, I thought it was taking place in an insane asylum given how the dancers were removing chairs (I figured to protect the 'patients').  Somehow, while watching this sequence, I started drifting unawares until my own body had done some movement of its own and I jolted myself back to consciousness.  Although both my eyes were fully open and I was conscious of watching the screen, my mind had drifted to where I was barely awake.

My biggest complaint about Pina is that we have no idea of who the woman was.  So many times in voiceover we hear how inspirational she was, how she shaped the various dancers' lives, but just how exactly did she do that?  The essence of the woman, the power she had to inspire, is all lost.  In short, we are never given a reason to care about her journey, her creativity, her vitality (even after her death).  If we can't care about the subject of any film (feature or documentary), why would we invest time in watching?

What saves Pina from being a total disaster is in some of the dance routines.  The opening Rite of Spring is a breathtaking spectacle (right down to where we hear the dancers' breathing), an amazing example of Bausch's creativity (having Stravinsky's music--always one of my favorite composers--doesn't hurt).  What can be called the 'plot' of Le Sacre du Printemps is actually quite easy to follow in her choreography (if one pays attention).   The closing number, Vollmond, is likewise wildly inventive, with the choreography coming alive (and where the 3-D is not a hindrance). 

The dance numbers in and of themselves are quite good.  It's everything that comes between them that's the real bore.

Pina the choreographer is brilliant (The Rite of Spring is a brilliant way to open, and Vollmond a brilliant way of closing).  Pina the film is frankly a little too artsy for me and I figure the casual viewer will become puzzled as to what exactly one is watching.  Is it a recital?  Perhaps, since it certainly doesn't want to bother exploring Bausch's creative process or Bausch as a woman or a person.  If you like to watch modern dance, Pina could be of interest.  If one wants to know the process behind the dances (such as what compelled her to create a dance involving a woman and a hippopotamus), Pina will be no help.  If you want to stay awake, good luck.

1940-2009
DECISION: D-

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