A tribute to Pina Bausch
By Wim Wenders

Dance, dance. Otherwise, we are lost.

This is a sumptuous cinematic essay by German film-maker Win Wenders. With the most up-to-the-minute movie-making technologies available today, Wenders offers a splendid visual tribute to his friend Pina Bausch, one of the most influential contemporary choreographers of our time, one who has left a lasting impression on Dance Theatre, an art form she created, on the world stage over the past three decades.


First of all, Wenders’ use of 3D technology and creative editing make this piece as captivating as anything I have seen in new cinema. This film is a shoe-in for the FIFA (International Art Film Festival): The viewer is entranced not only by the emotional content of Pina’s work, but also by the use of clever, artful shooting and editing. It is a film on High Art.

For example, the 3D makes the characters seem to dance in front of you, and enhances the texture of every piece of fabric, strand of hair and drop of water. Then the juxtaposition of behind-the-scenes archival images of Pina directing her dancers, actual performances recorded in front of live audiences, and footage taken of dancers performing at outside locations such as inside the suspended tramway in Wuppertal, Germany, in a factory or in a desolate quarry, creates a huge canvass on which it is seemingly written that Pina’s creative mind can neither be dominated nor contained. Both techniques serve to push the sensory experience to the outer limits of modern technological capacities.


The film is a collage of Pina’s works, concentrating on four main pieces, including the acclaimed Café Müller. The audience is led into Pina’s world of mesmerizing beauty and intense, destructive emotion, while at the same time shattering the barriers of containment by staging conflict between form and intent.

Like when a lone ballerina on points flutters on the cement grounds of a factory, amidst ghastly grey chimneys puffing waste into a perfect blue sky. Or when a dancer in that ever-present light chiffon camisole is attached to a harness and continues a relentless struggle to reach beyond her confines. Or when a character in red stilettos shovels dirt on another, barefoot, and crouched under the weight of the earth that would bury her. Or when dancers somehow do not slip as they perform on a surface of splashing water where only a huge rock constitutes the balance in the stage scenery. I love this excerpt:

The works speak to all human emotions ranging from fear to joy, from love to heartbreak and solitude. As her body of work seems to ask the question “where does the anguish come from?”, the dancers wonder if it is she who weaves her presence in their emotions, or conversely, if it is they who are all present in her

The scope of the accompanying music is very wide as well, ranging from orchestral Mahler to Sidney Bechet and a New Orleans Second Line procession, to Tango, Baroque and Sacred music, and this haunting New Jazz composition that remains in your head for days. What is not clear is if, for the design of the film, these choices were made by Wender or Bausch.

A Montreal Connection?

Each tableau is thus defined and chiseled as much by Bausch as by Wender. But in every movement, Pina’s indelible signature is recognizable. As luck would have it, at the premiere I was sitting next to Dr. Henry Daniel, Associate Professor of Dance and Performance Studies at Simon Fraser University, who knew Pina Bausch and her work well. We spoke a bit about her legacy to the Canadian dance world.

Indeed her stamp is visible in today’s dance productions, to me anyway. And although not all are considered Dance Theatre, per se, every choreographer whose names I dropped to Dr. Daniel, namely, Jean-Pierre Perreault, Edouard Locke, Margie Gillis and even Zab Maboungou, to the extent that her art is visceral and grounded in human experience, could be said to bear Pina’s influence. All of these I saw on screen in Wender’s movie, in the quality of the movements, even the wardrobe choices (the long, full skirts of Margie Gillis) and use of space almost devoid of props (Perreault, Locke). However, the debate seems to be open as to how much Pina actually did influence these artists in the creation of their particular art forms.
In every movement of Pina’s Tanztheater, one can sense the power of her presence powerfully inscribed. We can only guess how her visits to Montreal back in the 1980’s may have influenced our own Canadian choreographers, in particular people like Edouard Locke of Lalala Human Steps, who became well known for his own brand of “Physical Theatre”.

Nonetheless, Wenders apparently aims to establish that Pina holds the creative licence to that original art form. The result is a fascinating journey into a language of movement: Pina’s own.

The film features her dancers, who come from every corner of the globe, in every tableau as integral parts of the choreographies. Then, framed against a single backdrop, Wenders lets each express what working with Pina has meant to them.

“Dance for love”, Pina said. “Be a little crazier.”


I agree with this review (in French):  Aline Apostolska

Official Pina Web Site