Über­dance

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews -

UN­TIL HER death in 2009, Pina Bausch was ar­guably the most in­flu­en­tial woman in Euro­pean con­tem­po­rary dance. Bausch, a lat­eral-think­ing per­former and chore­og­ra­pher, fused rad­i­cal theatre, sur­re­al­ism and car­nal body gram­mar into what we now call Tanzthe­ater over some 30 years in the biz.

Purists might well ar­gue that watch­ing men shov­ing chopped onions into girls’ mouths ain’t ex­actly Swan Lake, but Bausch’s ad­mir­ers are le­gion.

Fel­low Ger­man Wim Wen­ders, as this lauda­tory new bio-doc at­tests, is a diehard Pina fan. The an­gu­lar per­form­ers who sur­rounded Bausch dur­ing life mir­ror the di­rec­tor’s pas­sion and are keen to pro­vide swoon­ing on-cam­era tes­ti­mony to the woman and her art. Their talk­ing-head rec­ol­lec­tions are here punc­tu­ated by recre­ations from some of Bausch’s sem­i­nal 1970s back cat­a­logue, in­clud­ing Café Müller, a piece movie buffs may recog­nise from the over­ture of Almod­ó­var’s Talk to Her. And it’s all in glo­ri­ous, shiny 3D. Who knew that 3D would be­come an art-house sta­ple? Ar­riv­ing hot on the heels of Werner Her­zog’s Cave of For­got­ten Dreams, Pina demon­strates what a real film­maker can do with an added di­men­sion. The process is im­mer­sive with­out dis­ap­pear­ing; space looks ad­e­quately spacey, sud­den move­ment ex­plodes off the screen, peek over your glasses and you’ll see a mi­rage of labyrinthine lay­er­ing.

Un­hap­pily, the film is less sat­is­fy­ing than its splen­did pre­sen­ta­tion. The tech­nol­ogy, though im­pres­sive, sim­ply can­not ac­cu­rately trans­late mod­ern chore­og­ra­phy into cin­ema. Partly it’s a dance thing – dance thrives on the ephemeral en­er­gies of the live ex­pe­ri­ence; 3D comes close but no cigar. Partly it’s a for­mal is­sue: Bausch’s work is too too hard-edged and phys­i­cally coun­ter­in­tu­itive to bring suf­fi­cient move­ment to mov­ing pic­tures.

The film is an odd tribute that leaves the viewer yearn­ing for the flu­id­ity of clas­si­cal train­ing. It’s odder still that we emerge from the cin­ema not know­ing any­thing more of Pina Brausch than we did go­ing in. Two days be­fore Wen­ders’ shoot was ini­tially due to start, Bausch died sud­denly, five days af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with cancer.

An elu­sive pres­ence in an elu­sive pic­ture, she haunts the fin­ished film, as a shadow from ar­chives and fond mem­o­ries, yet never seems to oc­cupy cen­tre stage.

irish­times.com/cul­ture

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