"I pulled the plug," says Wim Wenders. "I just walked out."
The Oscar candidate for Best Documentary Film Pina recalls his stunned response when his subject, Pina Bausch, died two days before filming was to begin.
He had collaborated with many artists before (Paris, Texas; Buena Vista Social Club), but dance was new territory. He and Bausch had been struggling for 20 years to figure out a way to capture Bausch's emotionally powerful dance onto film. "It seemed impossible," Wenders said in a telephone interview from his home in Germany.
"We kept trying. I would think hard, put it on paper. Then Pina would remind me, 'think harder.' "
He admired dance films like The Red Shoes, "but they tell a story ... I wanted to justify the magic of her art on the screen."
Bausch's dances are fragments of feelings, surreal, dreamlike and theatrical.
The breakthrough came when Wenders discovered the rock band U2's 3D concert film, U2-3D. With 3D, "I found a technique needed to capture the spatial requirement for dance. The problem had always been the invisible wall between dance and film."
Wenders and Bausch went to work in 2009, together choosing the works to be filmed: Café Muller, Le Sacre du Printemps, Vollmond, and Kontakthof.
"When she died I was shocked and sad that 20 years of our dreaming about collaboration was over. Losing Pina made it seem painfully impossible to continue."
The dancers, however, felt differently. "They wanted to continue the company for at least another two years. Two months later, they began rehearsing Café Muller and Le Sacre du Printemps. I realized it would be a crying shame not to record the works."
Without Pina, however, it was necessary to come up with a new concept. Together with the dancers, it was agreed to keep the initial plan to perform some of Bausch's works live on stage at the Tanztheater Wuppertal with an audience. That meant that everything had to be meticulously planned. There is just about no editing, even in performances without an audience. The camera follows so closely, you feel you are almost in the middle of the dance.
With the new plan, the film pays homage to Bausch. This was done with comments from the dancers and solo performances taken from snippets of past dances. The result is stunning: instead of the theater, the dancers perform outdoors, perfect for the 3D effect. We see dancers in the sweeping countryside, inside the Wuppertal Suspension Line, on busy street corners, inside the cars of the gliding monorail, at an indoor swimming pool, and within a barren industrial wasteland.
There are flashier 3D films, but this one is a revelation for dance. The intensity is visceral.
◊ Pina opens Friday, Feb. 3, at the Cinemark West Plano (in 3D), and at the Angelika Film Center Dallas (in 2D). Look for our review of the film on Friday.
◊ Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.
◊ Here's the film's trailer, followed by a clip from one of the sequences: