.Bausch House

WUPPERTHAL WHIRL: Fabien Prioville and Azusa Seyama dance in the streets for Wim Wenders’ ‘Pina.’

IT IS one of the 10 best films of 2011, but when you describe Wim Wenders’ Pina, it sounds like fodder for SNL’s Sprockets. The documentary is a cinematic festschrift for the German choreographer Pina Bausch, who passed away in 2009; it’s also an introduction (visible in superb 3-D) to her works.

Bausch’s choreography sometimes exhibits the German angst that looks deranged to American eyes. “This is veal!” screams a lone dancer in the courtyard of a factory; she then stuffs this raw meat into the toes of her ballet slippers. Meaning? Potentially, a note about the agony dancers endure to get en pointe.

Yet few dances outside of children’s ballets engage with a person in a hippopotamus costume; “I had a love affair with the hippo,” recalls one of the members of Pina’s dance company, whose names aren’t seen in caption. The dancers deliver their memories of Bausch straight to the camera. They recall vague yet penetrating advice: “You have to go crazier”; “She saw everything I was afraid of.”

From the evidence of Pina, we can see why they fell in love, despite what Bausch demanded from them. She led them through obstacle courses: a minefield of scattered chairs and sleeping drunks in the Cafe Muller piece. The tossing of a rag-doll dancer between two men looks tougher than most of the fight scenes in modern movies. Bausch’s famed Rites of Spring is carried out on a peat-covered stage. The old vaudeville joke is that you never let the audience see you sweat, though it’s actually this sweat on the dancers that brings out the primeval mud in the Stravinsky.

We’re all supposed to be very worried about elitism in high art. Yet however rarefied it could be, Bausch’s art was all about hard work and ordinary pain. There’s even a kind of homeliness in the site-specific pieces, done in and around Wupperthal’s famous aerial tram.

Bausch worked in an unsung city. Tom Tykwer’s 2000 The Princess and the Warrior may be the last film shot there. Despite the note of Disneyland in the sky tram, the city has more than its share of ordinariness and forlornness. Note the melancholy yet sweet line of geriatric dancers at the rim of a strip-mined chasm. And one performance is staged on the edge of traffic with TJ Maxx and McDonald’s signs looming overhead.

Pina

PG; 106 min.

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