German director Wim Wenders’ latest film, a 3D documentary tribute to the German dancer, choreographer and teacher Pina Bausch, began in the mid-eighties when he saw Bausch’s Café Müller for the first time. Afterwords, he suggested to her that they one day make a film together. It was not until 2009, however, that this dream really began to take shape. After working with Bausch for almost half a year, and just days before they were supposed to begin shooting the first 3D rehearsal, Bausch suddenly and unexpectedly died. After a mourning period, and encouraged by friends and family of Bausch, Wenders decided to forge ahead with the film, believing that Pina’s life and personality were so tied up in her work and her dancers that, through the presentation of four of her choreographed productions, he could pay proper homage to this influential artist.
Pina shows excerpts from performances of Café Müller, Le Sacre du printemps, Vollmond and Kontakthof—both in the theater and outside of it—mixed with archival footage of Bausch and solo performances done by her dancers. The 3D approach of the film, rather than being a distraction, allows the audience to experience art, life and the blurring between the two in a completely new and unique way. As a result, Pina is an elegant and poetic demonstration of everything 3D technology is capable of. This is 3D at its most sophisticated and subtle—no massive explosions, no aliens or CGI, just beautifully choreographed and exceptionally performed modern dance.
Bolstered by the additional sense of immersion that 3D allows, Pina takes the viewer up close and involves them intimately in something that usually feels distant and removed. The dance performances witnessed by the audience in the theater make the jump into real life, dancing across a highway, through construction sites, and in, above and around a monorail. The process goes both ways, as life is also injected into the art as the audience is introduced into the world of the dancers. We are on stage with them; we see them sweating; we hear them panting; in voice-overs, we hear about their lives and their relationships with Pina. This tension between life and art builds slowly and deliberately throughout the film, pushing visual and emotional boundaries, until finally culminating in an incredibly striking and powerful Fellini-esque scene: Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal dancers carry trees, and each other, on their backs through a barren landscape, as another group above snakes along the precipice of a cliff dancing eternally off into the distance. Life and art have finally merged, seamlessly, into one.
As a whole, Wenders’ film demonstrates how Pina’s attitude and vision towards dance and choreography transcended the theater, how she saw dance in everything, and everything as dance. Bausch once said that in order to dance, “Everyone must have the freedom, without inhibitions, to show everything.” Although the audience might not always understand the precise story behind her choreography, the emotions that lie beneath it are palpable and unwavering, whether boundlessly happy or intolerably sad. Ultimately, Pina’s choreography is relatable because it draws from life, from day-to-day experiences and emotions with which we are all familiar. Seeing this art reintroduced back into the life it mimics and enhances—and in three dimensions no less—is a breathtaking spectacle. Pina is an effusion of all the emotions, good and bad, that shape our daily lives and make us human, but most of all, it is a haunting and beautiful elegy to a woman who changed the world’s conception of dance.