Pina Wim Wenders (2011 Ger) Doc with company
viewed Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle 11 01 2020; ticket £7
All things bright and beautiful
Wenders’ ‘Pina’ is of course beautiful to look upon. The practiced group dynamics of Bausch’s choreography, the duets and solos set against the urban backcloth of Wuppertal all look gorgeous. But this is a ‘documenting’ film not what I understand as film as documentary. Film as hagiography, not as a probe.
In ‘Pina’ Wenders presents the spectacle of Bausch within the spectacle of the dance. It is a film of the adoring gaze.
Wenders’ key decision in ‘Pina’ was to strip Bausch out of context. In fact this is characteristic of most recent documentary vehicles. In ‘Pina’ Bausch is presented as coming out of nowhere. She is a Goddess of Dance who arrives fully formed on planet Wuppertal, an embodiment of genius.
Of course this is not the case.
Nothing is mentioned of her background as a child in the aftermath of Nazi Germany. Her early years will have presented her with images of destruction desolation despoliation and despair that were the psychic realities of the post war period in Germany. Did these images feed nothing into her being? Wenders ignores her stay in New York in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. This was the time of all times to be in NYC when it was the plumb centre of a world wide shift in artistic practice that induced new understandings of the different types of possibilities connecting artistic perception to social relations. This was the era where everything was opened up to re-appraisal. In particular the performance group Living Theatre was producing work that was grounded in a revolutionary reconceptualisation of what dramatic presentations could be about. Julian Beck, co- founder of Living Theatre said: “Our work had always striven to stress the sacredness of life.”
Bausch herself commented that in NYC she “…found herself.”
Besides the NYC influence there is of course the native German tradition of contemporary dance of which Bausch must have been aware: in particular Mary Wigman. Wigman until her death in 1972 was teaching in West Berlin and was influencing dancers world wide. Looking at residual footage of some of her productions in the 1930’s, most obviously her 1930 production of Totenmal, there are some obvious similarities to Bausch’s output. Wigman’s dances too were often accompanied by world music and non-Western instrumentation. Another obvious influence is Grotowski who in Poland was developing his Poor Theatre, a theatre of pure movement and gesture.
In the small world of the avant garde, practitioners were certainly aware of extraneous developments outside their own work. There seems to be a concerted effort in ‘Pina’ to spin out the Bausch myth. To propose that she was a one off original, to discount and minimalise the powerful influences that played out in her life’s career. Wenders perhaps enjoys hero worship (it is the easier way to make films with the famous); it is more comfortable to worship without asking questions.
None of the above seeks to belittle Bausch. She was an extraordinary and innovative figure in dance. But she is of her times and understandable within the folds of the times. Wenders’ documentary which locates her outside time, and in a certain sense does her less than justice.
But as well as creating a ‘fully formed ‘Pina’ Wenders also creates the image of Pina the enigma, a choreographer of Pythian like sensibility to the dancers and their dance. As her company are interviewed about her style of direction we are exposed to their wide eyed adulation. The respondent dancers of her company tell how just with her look she conveyed everything. One young dancer recounts how she ‘hid’ from Bausch but Bausch found her, looked at her and told her to “…keep on searching…’
But when we see Bausch (mainly in archive), it is a face that looks stern demanding and uncompromising. Perhaps she did not have these characteristics (that I have read into her facial expression) but to run a company like this that makes complete demands on its dancers, she must have been tough, and being tough means causing pain and frustration, even if it is understood by the sufferer that these are necessary conditions for the work. But none of this is even suggested by Wenders or his subjects who are happy to take the default sycophantic road to nowhere.
In his documenting of the Bausch repertoire there are certain singular conceptual pillars evident in her choreographic work. In my view these mainly relate to oppositions. Most prominent of these is the male – female opposition: the male body mostly defined either in angular clothing or musculated cut away costume; the female body garmented in flowing soft lines both enveloping and contouring the female form. This opposition seems primal but today in the plastic arts, gender differential is often blurred if not eradicated with the male and female merging as externalised expression. Artists certainly don’t have to justify or explain their work, and there is no reason why Bausch should have talked about the importance to her of gender opposition, but one might have thought some of the dancers might have given some thought to what Bausch was asking them to do. Or were they discouraged from thinking?
The oppositional pillars of Bausch’s work: chaos/ organised, hard/soft, open/closed, nature/culture, fluid/solid combined with her understanding of repetitions provide a coda for an unending exploration of meaning through movement as relevant today as when she developed her choreographed forms. So thanks to Wenders for letting us gaze and glimpse something in her dance. But without further probing, in particular of Bausch and the dancers who did as they were asked, this is a pretty but vacuous movie.