Movie Review: “Pina”

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Not since something like Kurosawa’s Dreams have I had such an exhilarating sensation of experiencing a waking dream during a film.

I guess Pina is a documentary, but it’s really more of a poem by Wim Wenders. You’re watching performances of pieces by the late choreographer Pina Bausch, staged in all kinds of striking indoor and outdoor settings.

Not being a student of dance, I didn’t know what to expect, but this was visceral, primal and funny. The 3D gives you such a tactile feeling of being near these bodies, and an almost out-of-body feeling of moving through these spaces.

Bausch died recently; from the interior monologues of the dancers, you get an idea of what a transformative figure she was in their lives.

There’s vaudeville in her work, as well as touches of Brecht and Beckett. Several times we revisit the progress of a procession, planting deliberate, cadenced steps, their arm movements precise and emphatic, their faces expressing the joy of being alive and moving.

When, in the end, we see them from a distance and in profile, dressed in primary colors and moving along the edge of a ridge, it reminded me of the end of and the great pageant of life.

In one piece we watch generations trade off: Children, adults and seniors, each taking their turn on the floor.

Bausch’s dance is dirty, literally. In the opening number, dancers charge across a dirt-strewn stage, with their ropey, sinewy bodies and flimsy garments becoming streaked with dirt. Raw meat and raw women’s eyes, imploring; telegraphing fear and need as urgent as a junkie’s for a fix.

When the men and the women finally come together there is a sexual frisson. The stakes are as high as possible in Bausch’s work: This is life and death. Dance is the life force.

“Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost,” said Pina.

Born in Athens, Ohio, Scott Pfeiffer has lived in Chicago since 1993. He did a minor in film at Ohio University back in the day. These days, he knocks about Chi-town, taking in film, music and theater. Read his other music and film reviews at The Moving World.