Wim Wenders: Pining for Pina

Pining for Pina

Wim Wenders: "Pina didn't want the dancers to play roles; she wanted to see what they had to express"
Photo: Donata Wenders/Neue Road Movies GmbH

Wim Wenders muses on Pina, his 3D tribute to the late choreographer Pina Bausch

It was in 1985 that Wim Wenders, who had never been interested in modern dance, discovered Pina Bausch, thanks to his girlfriend, who forced him to go see one of her shows. Deeply affected by the universe of the choreographer, Wenders spontaneously offered that they should make a film together. It took some 20 years for the German filmmaker to figure out how to translate Bausch’s work to the screen, but he found his answer in 2007 when he saw Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington’s U2 3D. Unfortunately, the choreographer died in 2009, a few months before filming started on Wenders’ film.

"After the death of Pina, I completely abandoned the project," says Wenders, who was at TIFF to present his film. "To me, there was nothing else I could do. The concept of the film was to shoot with Pina, to capture her style, her way of looking at the world, through her eyes."

After selecting a new artistic director, Tanztheater Wuppertal began rehearsing the four numbers Bausch had chosen for the film. When the shows premiered in October 2009, at the very time when the documentary was supposed to go into production, Wenders says, "Once again, I wanted to stop everything, then I realized that this film was important, after having dreamt about making it for so long. And Pina would have wanted us to do it."

In Wenders’ view, completing this project also allowed the dancers to say goodbye to the woman who had been at the centre of their lives. "Pina’s gaze remained on all the dancers; the young dancers had been trained by her to dance… We filmed them over a period of a few weeks. Then we took a long break and I started editing. I stayed in contact with the dancers and, gradually, we found a way to continue the film, to assimilate Pina’s method."

"Her method consisted of asking thousands of questions, both personal and general, which they were only allowed to answer through their dancing, their movements, their body," the director goes on. "Pina then asked them to repeat those movements in a more precise way. She didn’t want the dancers to play roles; she wanted to see what they had to express. For each number, she developed hundreds of hours of material from which she extracted minuscule fragments to create her choreographies. Since the dancers were used to being questioned and to have to answer with their own language, that method became the way to do the film."

Gone too soon, Bausch couldn’t be immortalized on film by Wenders, who instead used archival footage of her. As such, we can see Pina dancing Café Müller for one of the last times to the sound of the heart-rending Dido’s Lament. "I discovered Purcell in Café Müller. It’s surprising how this 17th-century opera can sound so contemporary and how moving its lyrics remain to this day."

Pina

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