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Pina – Quirky, beautiful, poignant dance in a great movie


The 103 minutes of Pina rush by quickly, even for a non-dance aficionado. It’s not just the 3D effects in Wim Wenders’ tribute to the late dancer/choreographer Pina Bausch, although there are a couple 3D wows. What is captivating is the love. Love of the dancers for their late artistic director (who died in 2009, 5 days after being diagnosed with cancer); love of Wenders for his subject; and love of human beings by Pina, whose exquisitely choreographed dances telescope the joy, sorrow and need of one human for another.

Wim Wenders and Angela Merkel at the Berlin premiere of Pina in 2011

It’s in the the great vaulting leaps of one dancer into another’s arms that I caught myself wowed, not for the skill so much as for the sense of complete trust and overwhelming joy that the gesture embodies — like the blind trust a child has for a parent. There are a few moments of glee, with almost vaudevillian slapstick, even in the somber Cafe Muller.  After a blind woman struggles through a room filled with chairs, when she finally finds a man and throws her arms around his neck with gusto, a manager-type in a suit quickly arrives and disentangles the two then places the woman, like a baby, in the arms of the man.  But she promptly falls to the ground and scrambles back up to embrace the man again. In manic pacing, the action repeats (see video clip) with the manager dis-entangling the two; the woman falling from the man’s arms and scrambling back into the embrace again, each time speeding up so that you hear the dancers panting from all the extreme action. It’s Chaplin-esque, both funny and poignant.

Pina, scene from Volmond, with dancers exuberantly throwing buckets of water at each other

The dances sprawl on stages covered with peat or water, and they’re out in Wuppertal, on street corners and in an elevated train. One segment has a dancer scrambling up to the top of what looks like a quarry to dance an exuberant number in the dusty dirt. Music runs from elegiac and classical (Rites of Spring) to contemporary jazz/rock and bubbly (“Lilies in the Valley” by Jun Miyake).

After a manic running leap the dancer is caught in the arms of another.

Bausch’s dances and this movie should do much to introduce people, in a friendly way, to an art form considered icy and foreign to many. With moves seemingly scripted from life itself — those great leaps; the seemingly martial arts-inspired arm and leg moves; breakdancing, even — Bausch’s dance-theater has a populist hook that crosses generations to connect with a potentially wide audience. The very engaging Volmond (with the water on stage) includes a crowd-pleasing scene in which at one point the dancers use buckets to splash each other like kids on a hot summer’s day (clip here).

The dances are extremely sensual and emotional but they’re also highly kooky, and the movie captures that combination and makes it very winning. Paced perfectly, with dances interspersed with lovely quiet moments of the dance troupe members in closeups, smiling wistfully as a voiceover plays words they previously spoke about Pina.  Whether this needed to be a 3D movie is not clear to me.  There were a couple of obvious 3D moments (a scrim curtain seems to brush past you; some water seems to splash your way), but basically, the dance-to-3D-effects ratio is such that I forgot I was watching a 3D movie.  (And I want to say that the clips I’ve seen on YouTube and Vimeo convey the film quite well without any 3D at all.)

I was not convinced I would even like Pina but I came out loving it. What a treat! Don’t miss it.

Catch the short making-of video and a fun red carpet video of the Berlin opening, in which you get to see, among others, German Chancellor Angela Merkel sitting in the front row and wearing her 3D glasses.  In Philadelphia see it at the Riverview Stadium 17 and the King of Prussia Stadium 16.