Last night we went to see Pina, Wim Wenders’ documentary about the late German choreographer Pina Bausch. Artfully conceived and shot in 3D by one of our great directors, the film is extraordinary. (And the screening was packed! On a Saturday night, with a room full of people who paid over $15 to see a documentary about dance! Yay, Boston!)
I saw Bausch’s troupe perform years ago, at BAM (the Brooklyn Academy of Music), and I was floored by the performance. It was dance like I’d never seen before and that night I became an admirer of Bausch, but the film equals that performance for me. The 3D allows us to see the dancers in extreme close-up as they strut and fret their hour upon the stage, much closer than we can when we see them dance in person, and it is gorgeous.
I loved the movie, as I assumed I would, but what took me by surprise is how it inspired me. As the dancers say in the film, Bausch’s work is about love, yearning, loneliness, joy, sadness, the cycles of life, but for me it was also about creativity and inspiration and making ourselves go through the daily rigors, the sometimes unbearable bouts of paralysis and discouragement and anguish that eventually might lead to a few meager baby steps forward—or a few promising words on the page.
In several pieces, dancers stand immobile only to physically nudge their own limbs into motion. Or they move through space as if half-awake (most famously in Cafe Müller), as others clear chairs from their path to keep them from colliding or mobilize them, literally picking up their limbs and moving them for them, wrapping a woman’s arms around a man’s neck or placing her limp body in his arms that have bent by the same third party for the purpose of catching her.
The result isn’t earth-shattering. The dancers don’t soar like ballerinas. They simply move through space, propelled through the moments we see them as if by sudden joy or anger or yearning for contact. The dancers catch each other when they fall. They provide each other with the shelter of an embrace. Other times they simply make each other move.
To me so much of this seemed like a metaphor for artistic creation: the state of paralysis, the necessity to literally push yourself or let yourself be pushed by forces around you to get off the ground and leap. Or just get off the ground, period.
What a beautiful way to express the grueling process many of us are all-too-familiar with. Maybe if I watched Bausch’s work every night before bed I would never know writer’s block again. Maybe those images of drab slip-clad women dancing in the dirt or a man rushing into the arms of another could give me the nudge I need to believe it’s worth sitting down in front of my computer to say something that others might want to hear.
Wenders and Bausch had planned to make this movie together, but in 2009 she was diagnosed with cancer. Five days later she was dead. Wenders wanted to cancel the project, but her troupe insisted on making the movie as a tribute to Bausch. The world and her devoted dancers suffered a terrible loss when Bausch died. But luckily for the rest of us, we have her dance and we have Pina.