High atop a cliff, a man dances madly about, his steps bringing him dangerously close to the edge. Behind him stands a steep hill. He dances from one to the otherthe intensity of his movements suggest someone in deep anguish.
He dances before a three-dimensional (3-D) film camera. As he moves closer to the cliff, the breathtaking 3-D visuals underscores the potential danger for him.
This is one of many thrilling sequences in Pina, the new documentary tribute to the late dancer choreographer Pina Bausch. It's highly unusual for a documentary to be shot in 3D. The acclaimed German filmmaker Wim Wenders took the time to talk with Windy City Times and discuss his decision to shoot Pina in 3-D, as well as other aspects of Bausch and his filmed tribute to her.
Windy City Times: How/when did you become familiar with Pina's work?
Wim Wenders: Summer of 1985, and the place was the gorgeous theater La Fenice in Venice, Italy. I had no clue who Pina Bausch was, and I wasn't into dance at all. My girlfriend and I were in Venice on a short holiday, and when she pointed to a poster announcing a week of several pieces by Pina Bausch, I said "No! Definitely not!" I caved in. Instead of a boring evening, I was up for something incredible, a night that was going to change my life. After a few minutes I found myself on the edge of my seat, crying. I was touched by what I saw on stage like I had never been touched before by any theater event. My body wept, uncontrollably."
WCT: What was it about her style that intrigued you?
WW: Pina Bausch's work was neither ballet, nor modern dance, not pantomime, nor theater. It was something altogether new. Dance put upside down, or, in my book, dance put back on its feet. Pina's priorities were clearly not aesthetic ones, but seemed to be the same questions that are driving contemporary cinema or literature: who we are, what are we here for, how can we love, how can we be understood. She expressed it better herself than I can.
She said, "I'm not interested in how my dancers move. I'm interested in what moves them." For her, we expressed everything with our body language that words could no longer grasp, or had gotten wrong, or had turned into cliches. Pina really meant it, when she said, "Dance! Dance! Otherwise we are lost!"
WCT: Why did you choose to shoot the film in 3-D?
WW: There was a major problem between film and dance. When I started to imagine a film that Pina and I would do together, I was soon at a loss. My craft didn't seem to have what it took to do justice to the beauty and energy and physicality of Pina's work. What I could do felt "flat," literally.
The dancer's kingdom, their very element, is space. With each and every gesture, they conquer it from scratch. And space was exactly what cinema could never handle. Whatever we did, for more than a hundred yearswith fancy camera moves, cranes, tracks, helicopters, Steadicamsalways ended up on a two-dimensional screen. Only the arrival of 3-D changed that, drastically. For the first time I could be in the dancer's realm, truly with them, no longer on the outside looking in.
WCT: How different was your original concept for the film before Pina passed on? How different might the final film have been had she lived?
WW: We had written a concept for the film we were going to do together. We were only a few weeks away from starting to shoot, then Pina passed away, from one day to another. Nobody had even been able to say goodbye to her. From one day to another she was gone.
I immediately cancelled the film. It seemed unthinkable to continue.
It was the dancers who made me realize that this was the wrong reaction. They continued to perform, actually decided to continue as a company, and fulfill all the obligations the Tanztheater had undergone under Pina, for at least the next three years.
They made me understand that we certainly couldn't make the film with Pina anymore, but we might be able to make a film For Pina, as an homage. Most of all as a way to say goodbye, and thank you to her. We had to invent a new film together, which we did, over the course of the next year: a journey into the world of Pina Bausch.
WCT: The dancers are of different sizes and age groups, which is rare in dance. Could you offer a comment on thiswhat Pina was, or you were, trying to say with these casting choices?
WW: Her company was some sort of a utopian humanity. They were from all continents, spoke many languages, and were too old for other companies, too voluptuous, too skinny or too short. These dancers were themselves. That's all Pina wanted them to be. No role models, no athletes, no perfect bodies, just themselves, as truly and beautifully as possible. She wanted us to recognize ourselves in these dancers, with our flaws and deficiencies. She didn't mind those, on the contrary, she made them look lovable.
WCT: What was the response of the dancers when they saw the finished film?
WW: There were a lot of tears. Of course, I showed it to the dancers before I showed it to anybody, press or public. And that was an incredibly emotional moment. After all, we had worked on this together over the span of one whole year. And Pina herself appears in the filmeven only sparselyand none of the dancers had seen or heard her anymore after her death, But when I saw how happy they were, in the end, with the result of that year's work, I was also sure that Pina was fine with it.
WCT: What would you say Pina's legacy is?
WW: She has done pioneering work in a new art form she invented herself: Dance Theater, which is now accepted and done all over the world. She has brought the common language mankind knows, body language, to a new height that was unheard of before. Nobody has ever presented the grammar and the vocabulary of that language with that precision and deep understanding as Pina Bausch did.