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Movie Review: Pina

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Pina, a documentary/tribute to the German choreographer Pina Bausch who presided over the Wuppertal Opera Ballet (later renamed the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch) until her death in June of 2009, is a gorgeous film. I think I described Tree of Life as the film version of a poem. Pina, though superficially the film version of a dance performance, feels almost as if it is a series of moving (in both senses actually) paintings. The dancers and their choreographed works are often set in unusual backdrops, urban spaces, public transportation cars and platforms, warehouses and beautiful natural settings. The subtlety of their movement, the intricacy of their costumes set against these spaces really lends the pieces the quality of animated (in the sense of being alive, not the cartoon sense) works of art.

On the surface, it is a more of a tribute to Pina, a reverential collection of her dancers and works, sprinkled with brief reactions to her person by those in her company. Much of it is does not include the documenting of her tenure at the company, though some of that is included. And not much is said of her personally, but perhaps it may be said that the pieces complete the picture of the woman. They certainly hint at the obvious darkness and turbulent energy that resided within her. Her works, even the initially lighter seeming ones, are filled with a sense of foreboding and restless energy. The choreography expresses anguish so immense it seems to drive the dancers, as though the characters find it impossible to sit still with the pain, so it flows throughout their bodies and out into the frenetic movements that characterize much of her work. Given that the dance scenes far outweigh any discussion of the choreographer, I wonder if those who don’t appreciate dance will garner much from the film.

Another aspect I enjoyed about the film is that even when the interviewees are being shown, their words are presented as voiceovers, the camera on their face capturing their reactions perhaps to their own words themselves or simply to their mental reflections of Pina. It seems to pay due respect to Pina’s own view, that dance (and maybe by extension, facial expressions and body language) steps in when words fall short. And their expressions make clear how meaningful it was to have a career and learning experience under this celebrated choreographer.

The editing, the choice of backdrops, and the multitude of dancers of varying ages and ethnicities lend a really unique quality to the dance performances that I had not really experienced prior. All of the dance casts I see tend to be composed entirely of younger dancers, though generally there is a fair amount of diversity in ethnicity. The wildly different backdrops included in the film are something that obviously cannot be accomplished in a dance performance set on a stage. Finally, the apparent resonance of Pina’s hand in the dancers’ lives, and Pina’s choreography itself make for a really unique and beautiful film.

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