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Friday, February 10, 2012

'Pina' does justice to dance in all its dimensions

Posted By on Fri, Feb 10, 2012 at 2:12 PM

BATTLE OF THE SEXES: The ensemble of Pina
  • 2011 Donata Wenders / Sundance Selects
  • BATTLE OF THE SEXES: The ensemble of 'Pina'
Hollywood has embraced 3-D like a drowning man seizing a lifeline. The most innovative and exciting examples of the format have come not from special effects spectacles but… German art documentaries? Can that be right?

Last year, Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams used the three-dimensional effect to convey the uneven surfaces of the Chauvet Cave, which makes the prehistoric paintings look markedly different than seeing them “flat.” Now, Wim Wenders’ Oscar-nominated documentary Pina encourages the audience to view modern dance through the eyes of deceased but renowned choreographer Pina Bausch.

Pina is never more powerful than during its presentation of “The Rite of Spring,” which finds the dancers of Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal. A layer of reddish soil covers the performing space, and the conflicts between the male and female dancers convey the heightened emotions of courtship and passion. The 3D emphasizes how the performers move through the theatrical space and draw the audience’s attention to the emotional elements of blocking and movement. At times Wenders brings his camera into intimate close-up, but primarily the photography and editing respect Bausch’s choreography enough to let us see it, not chop it up.

The 3D never proves as arresting as during “The Rite of Spring,” so at times the film feels like it peaks in the first 20 minutes. Pina features other impressive dance pieces, including “Café Mueller,” which takes place on a stage strewn with chairs and evokes the stage plays of the likes of Eugene Ionesco and Jean-Paul Sartre. “Vollmond” floods the stage and features a massive, craggy boulder in the background, lending powerful, elemental imagery to the dances.

Wenders planned to film Pina with the choreographer’s participation, but Bausch died of cancer two days before photography was to begin. Instead, Pina serves as a posthumous tribute, with the many dancers in her troupe talking about their love and respect for her. It’s unquestionably a sincere and heartfelt homage, but audiences who don’t know about Bausch may be disappointed that the film stints on biographical information. Dancers describe her pieces of advice, like “You just have to get crazier,” and we see archival shots of the choreographer (often in 2D). We learn very much about her work and passion, but precious few details about her life. If you’re at all interested in dance, it’s a must-see film, but it can try the patience of a casual moviegoer.

Pina includes a framing device of the dancers walking in a line, going through a sequence of whimsical gestures that evoke the passing seasons. Their line snakes through a theater, goes out into the city streets and ends up on a remote, windy hill, until it takes the character of a New Orleans jazz funeral, a procession to honor Bausch from the dancers who knew her best.

Pina. 3 stars. Directed by Wim Wenders. Stars Pina Bausch. Rated PG. Opens Fri., Feb. 10. At AMC Phipps Plaza.

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