This film almost didn’t happen. Shortly before shooting was scheduled to begin in 2009, its subject, choreographer and artistic genius Pina Bausch, died suddenly, just days after being diagnosed with cancer. Wenders, a virtuoso in his own way and one of Germany’s most illustrious postwar filmmakers, almost abandoned the project, but when Bausch’s superb dance troupe decided to continue on, so did he with this magnificent tribute to her.
Bausch’s absence is felt throughout, but the film is not a standard talking-head documentary. Instead, the troupe’s trademark dances and Bausch’s amazing choreography become the heart and soul of this beautifully imagined homage to one of the world’s great artists.
Wenders opens up the dances, employing the streets and parks of Wuppertal – where Bausch’s company, Tanztheater Wuppertal, is based – as exciting backdrops to some of her best-known productions. Her version of Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’ is justly famous; dancers leave traces of their movements in earth. Equally fine is ‘Café Mueller,’ where, in a dreamlike trance, dancers move with eyes closed to Purcell-scored music. Pedro Almodóvar used a section of this piece in Talk To Her. For the equally imaginative ‘Vollmond,’ set designer Peter Pabst provided an onstage waterfall through which the performers dance. ‘Kontakthof’ allows Wenders his own directorial moment: he shoots this piece in three versions, each time using dancers of a different age.
The sheer joy, abandon and physicality of Bausch’s choreography are on full display here, and Wenders has done a masterful job capturing the essence of her work. Pina is a revelation.
– Piers Handling, Toronto International Film Festival
Want more Pina Bausch? NAC Dance presents Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch’s Vollmond on Nov. 7 & 8 at the National Arts Centre. Click here for more information and tickets.