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Buying A Horse | 'Pina,' 4 Stars

Posted By: JR

For anyone with an interest in dance, “Pina” is a must-see.

For anyone not interested in contemporary dance, “Pina” is a should-see. It could change your mind.

“Pina” is director Wim Wenders’ 3-D documentary about the art of choreographer Pina Bausch, who died in 2009.

The particular kind of dance created by Bausch is not for the faint of heart. It is not dandified, pretty or ethereal. It is dance made from mud, menstrual blood and muscle. It tackles the pith of human life and creates memory-searing metaphors for our shared humanity.

There are those who say what Bausch created isn’t dance at all. But I don’t know what else you could call it. It is art made from repeated human gestures. Bausch called it “dance theater.”

Her advice for one of her dancers getting ready to go onstage: “Don’t forget, you have to scare me.”

Bausch’s art is one of love, pain, joy, loss and loneliness, and we are given movement emblematic of those themes: falling, beating one’s breast, embraces, obsessive hand gestures, clusters of dancers moving together like kelp in the surf or flocks of birds who change direction in perfect sync.

There is an invented vocabulary of gestural semaphore signals that her dancers use, unfamiliar but instantly understandable.

Bausch sets her version of the “Rite of Spring” on a dance floor covered in dirt, so the dancers’ steps leave tracks. “Full Moon” is set on a stage with a giant rock and a shallow pool of water, into which the dancers dive, scoop water, throw it at the rock and generally become sopping.

In “Cafe Mller,” they dance with closed eyes. The stage is covered with chairs, and one dancer clears them away from the unseeing dancers before they stumble, although it does not stop them from crashing into walls.

Wenders does not give us the whole dances, but excerpts that are long enough so we can understand what the work is about. When he leaves an episode, he moves on to something germane, so the segue makes aesthetic sense.

He says that before he made “Pina,” he did not know how to film dance but that 3-D showed him the way. He uses the process masterfully. Dance is movement in space, and flat, 2-D films can only imply that space. Wenders’ 3-D makes that volumetric space palpable.

In between the major segments of four of Bausch’s dances come voice-over interviews with members of her company, followed by those members giving solo performances in odd venues, such as German factories, an open-pit mine and the monorail that runs through the German town of Wuppertal. Each solo routine exemplifies one aspect of Bausch’s vision.

There are several notable things: Her dance company, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, has been together and cohesive for decades, so many of her primary dancers are now in their 50s. The experience that informs their work greatly outweighs any loss of step through age.

Bausch’s vision is often demonstrably a woman’s point of view. It is a point of view that demands consideration: In one segment, a woman is pawed over by a half-dozen male dancers as they test her teeth, her muscles, even her nose, as if they were buying a horse. In another, a man carries a woman curled up on his back in fetal position, then they switch places and she carries him.

Music for the dance ranges from Louis Armstrong’s “West End Blues” to Mahler’s “Songs of a Wayfarer,” with several tangos in between. All of the music informs the dance.

The film is rated PG for brief partial nudity and what the MPAA calls “some sensuality.” You have to be appalled at the association’s blindness: Every bit of this dance is about sex. You wring it out of the dancers like water out of wet laundry. It is saturated with sex — just not the kind that Hollywood can understand.

This is not sex as titillation; it is primal urge. As one of the dancers sums it up, “Where does all this yearning come from?”

Reach the reporter at 602-444-8823, richard.nilsen@arizonarepublic.com.

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