"Pina" *** 1/2
RATED PG (some sensuality/partial nudity and smoking)
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Park Place Cinemas
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "For Pina," reads the opening title to the documentary "Pina." "By all of us."
Director Wim Wenders had originally considered making a film showcasing the work of legendary German dance choreographer Pina Bausch. But when she died in 2009, the film became a memorial and a celebration of the artist who once exhorted her performers, "Dance for love."
It's a spectacular film, and one that even newbies to modern dance should check out. Wenders' approach to realizing Bausch's choreography is that he takes its emotional essence -- witty, romantic and deeply humanistic -- and uses the visual language of film to expand those elements across the screen.
For example, some performances in the film do take place on stage, but it's not a stage that most would recognize. In the opening piece, we see female dancers from Bausch's company, Tanztheater Wuppertal, slowly rousing themselves like budding plants on a soil-covered stage, then engaging with male dancers in a series of rhythmic, repetitive movements, like new life forms getting used to their bodies.
But much of the time, the dancers perform out in the world: a ballerina flexes on a handcart inside a train tunnel; a dancer unfurls before curious commuters on an elevated tram; a man and a woman intertwine passionately on a busy street corner, traffic whipping by; a woman, bent nearly double, carries a man on her back as if he were a baby on a cradle board. The choreography is thrilling, unexpected, sometimes a little disturbing in the way it pushes the body in ways we're not used to seeing it move.
Bausch's movements weren't meant to be hermetically sealed inside a theater, but to connect with and express universal human emotions. Joy, anger, terror, grief -- the entire range of human experience can be found in these dances. It's no wonder the movie closes with all of the company's dancers in a long, sinuous line in the hills, all repeating four motions that represent spring, summer, fall and winter: the cycle of life.
Much of "Pina" is just dancing, although Wenders does include interviews with many of the dancers who worked with Bausch. We never see them speak on-camera; instead, Wenders just plays the voiceover of their reminiscences while showing them sitting contemplatively.
We get snippets here and there of the real Bausch, observing rehearsals, an ever-present cigarette in her hand as she appraises the dancers. But there's no discussion of her background or her motivation. All we need to know about Pina, we find in the dancing.