This film tribute to Pina Bausch (2011; dir. Wim Wenders) and her choreography raises the question of what a choreographer really is. Not just a creative inventor of dance, but a powerful personality. The dancers interviewed for the film speak of her as if she were a daemonic force, or a lover, or a parent, or a tormentor. Most speak with awe and respect. A few speak in fear. All seem affected by her, even haunted. How can dancers who live in such close creative proximity to someone for 10 or 20 years remain whole when she dies? The film raises these questions, because I thought about them as I watched, but it does not explore them. Bausch’s choreography, however, does.
It’s clear that Bausch saw human relationships as power relations, as hostile and passionate interconnections, destructive and creative. You see this most clearly in her piece called “Café Muller,” in which couples stumble around the stage, furiously moving chairs, manipulating one another’s limbs. The constant movement is visual cacophony, anarchy, though ultimately the dancers achieve what seems a short-lived balance or harmony with each other. My favorite part of the film was the long introductory dance choreographed to Stravinsky’s “Rites of Spring.” It suggests courtship and mating as a cultural and biological ritual. In the beginning male and female dancers enter into separate areas of the stage, gradually intermingling in a process that is more violent than anything else. The stage is covered with several inches of what appears to be barley. The rhythmic movement of the dancers is entrancing and also ominous. Another work that suggests a science fiction theme and that certainly seems apocalyptic is “Vollmond” in which dancers individually and together move around a stage dominated by a large red boulder. They splash in a stream of water, jumping from the water and the boulder back to the floor. The movement is disorienting, and must have been hazardous for the dancers, given the movement from dry floor to water to wet boulder.
The film offers ample excerpts from Bausch’s major work, interspersed with interviews with dancers in her company, and with others who had worked with her. She had died of cancer, unexpectedly, shortly before filming of Pina began. The company (I assume) is still mourning her, and the film is suffused with loss and sadness.