‘Pina’. A film by Wim Wenders

Pina, shot in 3-D and directed by the acclaimed German artist Wim Wenders, has been touted by many as showing the way forward in terms of filming dance, giving back to dance the physicality that it apparently loses in regular filming. But I’m not sure that many of the reviewers who have hailed it as a breakthrough have actually sat in a theatre and watched a performance by Pina Bausch’s company, or any other dance company for that matter.

For me the most interesting review to date has been by Australian playwright and commentator Louis Nowra. Writing in the August edition of The Monthly, Nowra astutely says, amongst other things, that the scenes shot out of doors are ‘[drained] of their claustrophobic power’, and that ‘the uterine universe that Bausch created onstage is dissipated’. His concluding statement is: ‘For all its 3-D marvels, the film finally doesn’t do her work justice’. And it doesn’t.

Pina is not really a documentary. Nor is it really a dance film. It sits uneasily between the two. It shows sequences from four major Bausch works, Rite of Spring, Café Mueller, Kontakthof and Vollmond, in most cases danced by the current company. It contains some archival footage, although not as much as one might have hoped to see. It contains solos performed outdoors in locations around Wuppertal, the German city where the company, led by Pina Bausch and now since Bausch’s death in 2009 by Dominique Mercy and Robert Stürm, has resided for almost four decades. It shows Bausch’s current dancers talking about their experiences with the company and their thoughts about what it was like working with Bausch.

Company dancers now, as they have been across the history of the company, are great movers. No doubting that. They are also articulate about their experiences and their emotional involvement in the act of working with Bausch. But what horrors are perpetrated by the 3-D technology! The scenic space in which the dancers perform is often far too deep and distorts the dancers. They often look far too small and far too thin. They don’t inhabit the space as living human beings but as kinds of puppet figures. We also, especially in footage of Rite of Spring, get some hideous close-up images (3-D close-up) of faces—images that we never see in performance, and that we are really never meant to see. Distance in the theatre has a place.

Also having a place in the theatre and often missing in Pina is the intimate contact between performers that develops in the enclosed space of a theatre stage. In the deep 3-D recesses, dancers seem to be separated or disengaged from each other, from the props and indeed from the performing space itself, not to mention from the viewer—and I don’t consider having a face thrust straight into mine courtesy of 3-D an engagement with the viewer. How much more engaging is the archival footage (not filmed in 3-D) of Bausch herself performing in Café Mueller where we see her interacting with the space around her body, her personal space, as all great dancers are able to do, rather than seeing her placed within a technological extension of space.

Going back to Louis Nowra, he is absolutely right that the very inward looking, almost narcissistic approach that seems necessary for the creation of a work by Pina Bausch is lost when the works (or parts of them) are placed out of doors. In fact for me the most interesting part of the footage shot out of doors was seeing the Schwebebahn, Wuppertal’s suspended monorail system that, as far as I am aware, is a somewhat over-engineered rail system that has never been replicated elsewhere.

Worse than that, as far as I am concerned, is that the works lose their inherent, dancerly theatricality when shot in 3-D.

Michelle Potter, 20 August 2011

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