The very best movie I’ve seen in a -long- while is Pina; a performance piece commemorating the life of choreographer Pina Bausch. First of all, it’s the first 3-D movie I’ve seen that was worth a shit. In fact, it just wouldn’t work well in 2-D. Director Wim Wenders cleverly exploits the formats innate tendency to render depth in discrete layers. He intentionally creates scenes that look almost like grade-school dioramas. In addition to being extremely cool looking, it also solves another problem of filming dance—what to leave in and what to leave out. How does one choose the angle you want the viewer to see? Well, with 3-D you can show it all in focus, but put the layer you want to emphasise highlighted.
And the choreography is amazing enough to warrant such imagination. It’s so good, in fact, I fear lots of people who aren’t big ‘modern dance’ fans will be so captivated by Pina that they go out and buy tickets to the next local ballet performance—and get promptly thrown off their dinners. Sadly, like all the best ‘Greatest Hits’ packages, Pina can make going back to the source material a bit pale. (I saw one of Pina’s full pieces years ago and found it about twice as long as it needed to be. I hope to see another at some point and prove myself wrong.)
I’ve always liked dance. The bodies—how they do all that stuff. The control! The sense of freedom! One highlight of Pina was their performance of Stravinsky’s Rite ‘Adolescents’. The scandal caused at the Paris premiere of Le Sacre in 1912 is well-known. But we hear or see the piece today and can’t really understand all the fuss. Well, Pina’s version gets it. It’s brutal. Teenage girls, giggling, but nervous. One of them has gotten her period. And then one of the men of the tribe approaches slowly, with a certain look. And at once the girls now realise what becoming a woman really means. He’s going to take her. They will all be taken. They are frightened and captivated. All the nervous energy will be channeled into the tribe. And the ritual is the doorway. For all it’s wonder and beauty, how rarely does dance reach such depths.
So many ballets try to tell a story. But I am not sure that any dance can really tell a ‘story’. People often say that dance expresses feelings that can’t be put into words. I disagree. I think dance acts as something of a proxy for the Freudian ID. It makes it acceptable to can be put into words, but might not be socially acceptable to do so. The Rite deals with primal ideas that just can’t be talked about in our ‘politically correct’ world—as with ‘the N word’. My grouse with every other version of Le Sacre I’ve watched is that they weren’t true to the story… it -never- got the ugliness of life 5,000 years ago. Pina’s version does.
But the majority of the movie actually has great humour and that is also something dance expresses well. In dance, one can communicate feelings ranging from tenderness and embarrassment to complete sillines that would us locked up given the naturally repressed state of most our lives.
One final note: Pina’s company is decidedly mixed-age. Many of the principals are in their 40’s and this gives their company further range. Watching the full range of humanity act out her imaginings adds so much more to the experience.
Highest possible recommendation.