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Who Is Pina Bausch?
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

Pina Bausch? Never heard of her. It wasn’t until I saw the film Pina that I realized I had missed someone who truly had great talent. Pina started her career at age 14 when she joined a dance school of the influential choreographer Kurt Jooss, a German Expressionist. She then went to Julliard in New York and from there her career took off. She eventually became the artistic director of the Tanztheater Wuppertal and created a style of meshing dance and theater together in a contemporary way.

Director Wim Wenders and choreographer Pina Bausch planned an autobiographical film to show how she worked on her various projects. For Wim Wenders, this would have been a road movie where he stayed behind the scenes and let Bausch do her work. Pina would be the focus and the film would accompany her on two tours: to South America and then Asia, including rehearsals. She wanted the film to stand strictly on its own, a process of seeing the work without explaining it.

Due to her sudden death from cancer, Wenders and the company were left with a dilemma. How should they complete this film? The dancers insisted that she was still present and convinced him to finish. Wenders let the dancers express themselves and analyze their sense of the “piercing eye” that Pina had over her work. Pina’s gaze is the subject of this film. Her way of looking at things fascinated Wenders and the film shows this repeatedly. According to Wenders, she had an incredibly accurate insight into people’s souls and their expressions during movement which she put into her pieces. Every piece shows this intensive gazing, something which Wenders had never felt before in his life: the way Pina looked at things; nothing remained hidden from her. Wenders said, “She really saw through you entirely, thoroughly, and you didn’t feel naked. Nor did you feel as if you were disclosing something; her eyes were piercing but loving and that’s why we made this film since we couldn’t do it with her personally as planned.”

This film, as well as many this year at the Berlinale, was in 3D. It was definitely a film that benefited from the 3D effect. But what was it like to dance with this 3D camera which is a rather large crane? How does this interfere with intimacy of the chorographer?

Julie Shanahan (dancer): For me it was easy because I have been working with Pina for 22 years. We have experienced so much and there is so much understanding about how you can be in and within yourself. The camera was there but I was in myself. Barbara Kaufmann (dancer): What was important for me was the great empathy when Wim was dealing with us and the camera was there and very much present, but we were able to approach this slowly and get use to it and after a time the camera was no longer there.

Wem Wenders (director): In 3D you have to have two cameras. And the crane which was moving up to the stage was like a dinosaur filling the theater but we knew the chorography by heart and we knew where we could be exactly at that moment. While filming over a year, technology changed and it became easier. The camera was never in the path of the dancers. It was outside the dancing and we had a smaller team for the outside scenes.

Wenders said, “As a film director one has the impression that one has mastered the craft of movies, moving pictures, but it was only after I had seen all her plays that I realized that I was a beginner and unable to decipher movement the way she did art in seeing what the soul tells.” Wenders felt that Pina was watching over his shoulder as he was making this film.

Looking at her troupe you realize what an international team it is. She also used the most interesting music which reflected this international group. In the film there are 40 different types of music integrated in the pieces. Pina’s work is minimalist when it comes to words and she lets the language of dance do the work. She created an environment of trust but at the same time demanded a lot from her dancers. The dancers were vulnerable but it was done in a loving work space so they trusted themselves to go the limit. Wenders let the dancers be her voice, which they do by asking questions and then trying to explain the way she saw things. It is an incredibly beautiful film for those who enjoy artistic dance and theater performance. My personal favorite was a piece entitled “Masurca Fofa" where there is a big rock onstage and the dancers swim through water and move around on this rock as though they are in the middle of the wilderness.