Friday, 29 April 2011
Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost
The first time I heard the jagged, fractured rhythms of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring was at a Siouxsie and the Banshees concert. The following day I bought a tape (that shows how long ago it was) of the modernist ballet score and it still remains with me (although I did upgrade to a c.d. at some point). Wim Wenders opens his film documentary, Pina, with an arresting excerpt from the German choreographer Pina Bausch’s version of The Rite of Spring.
Bausch interprets Stravinsky’s music with the confidence of a master. Dancers move in synchronised unison or singly. Men are stripped to the waist – their torsos muscular and hard. Women wear gossamer shifts that give them an added fragility and softness. Together they stomp their terrors, longings and violence into brown earth as the sacrificial ritual of the music unfolds through the primitive blockbeats. The physical tics and visual silhouettes that are so much part of Bausch’s dance language are all contained in this opening sequence.
Pina is also in 3D. Let me immediately confess that I am unconvinced by 3D films. It seems to me that the technology does not meet the expectations of the audience. There are always images that remain blurred at the periphery of one’s vision, items on screen that float when they are not meant to and are disconnected from the canvas of the screen. With Avatar the technology did take a quantum leap forward, but not enough to make one believe that films in 2D were on the way out.
The use of 3D in Pina is the most successful that I have seen. In part, this is because the 3D is not there to heighten a visual CGI effect. It is not a piece of cinematic cabaret. 3D in Pina aims to place the dancers in space. It has a specific and refined function. The physicality of their movement is given a proper depth. Here, 3D is not used as a cinematic gimmick but as a vital expression of how we encounter dancers in motion. It accentuates, rather than detracts, from the beauty of the performance.
Five days after being diagnosed with cancer, Pina Bausch died on 30 June 2009. This film is a tribute to her work. She, in fact, appears in brief documentary footage only a couple of times in the whole film. We are to approach her and her unique sensibility, through her sublime and, at times, disturbing choreography. Wim Wenders has decided that the work is the thing and not the personality or biography. In the 1970's Bausch’s work began to make an impact on a wide audience and was critically applauded. The Rite of Spring and Café Müller became her signature pieces and they provide the main substance of Wim Wender’s film.
Though we live in increasingly hypersexualised societies, our bodies are becoming more alien to us. We view them as additions to who we are, appendages rather than as integral to the reality of our being. We risk seeing ourselves and others through a pronographic lens. The work of an artist such as Pina Bausch challenges this view more eloquently and persuasively than any lecture or learned article. She shows that our bodies and what we do with them speak of the mysterious depths within us. They differentiate gender and in turn, exhibit different characteristics that are both complementary and together create a convincing integrity.
But this is no mere biological reductivism or simple gender stereotyping, because what Bausch is concerned with is the human body in motion and flight. She captures those moments - the scratch of a nose, the awkward tilt of a head, the collapse of a physical position - when the male or female body hints at that within us which normally remains hidden. “Pina made us feel more than human,” says one of the dancers in the film.
What would feeling more than human look like? This remarkable film offers some tentative answers to that question. Don’t let the idea of a film about contemporary dance put you off. Don’t let the prospect of wearing 3D specs put you off. Go and experience a film that will shift your understanding of what it means to be an embodied person...and, maybe, even make you want to dance.