Wim Wenders’ Dance Dimensions


Wim Wenders’ latest offering is a shift from his earlier work (Wings of Desire, Paris Texas), particularly in its use of 3-D technology. Pina is about Pina Bausch, the groundbreaking German choreographer responsible for changing the course of modern dance, and the legacy she left behind. Moved by her work, Wenders collaborated with Bausch for over 20 years trying to bring this project to life until her sudden death in 2009 at the age of 68.

After her death, members of her dance company, Tanztheatre Wuppertal continued with the director to document Bausch’s expansive and challenging body of work. In many ways, Bausch’s passing shaped the making of this documentary as much as her life’s work. Her dance troupe honors Bausch’s choreography, but also demonstrates how she moved them as dancers and as human beings. The result is Wenders’ documentary, which captures the symbiosis of Bausch’s choreographic imagination and what she taught her dancers, in several vignettes and four major set pieces. These include some of Bausch’s most celebrated works, including Café Müller and The Rite of Spring.

Interview spoke with the director during the premiere of PINA at the Toronto International Film Festival.

MISHAL CAZMI: What made you decide to create a documentary about dance, and more specifically, about Pina Bausch?

WIM WENDERS: My initial encounter with Pina and with her work was already the first grain of the story. I was like many men. Dance was not for me. I didn’t need it, I wasn’t interested in it, and I felt like it had nothing to tell me. When my girlfriend 25 years ago wanted to take me to see two pieces by Pina Bausch, I resisted. I did everything not to go. In the end, I caved in. I already knew I was going to be bored to death. But the opposite happened and at the end of ten minutes, I was at the edge of my seat and weeping uncontrollably, moved like I’d never been moved before. That night was the beginning of this movie. My main impulse was to make a movie for someone who, like me, thinks dance is not for them.

CAZMI: What’s the difference between Tanztheater (dance theatre)—what Pina created—and modern dance?

WENDERS: There’s a huge difference. Pina’s work could not do without dancers and cannot without actors. You could only do it with people who were fluent in both arts and professions. And there are a lot of things that dancers can do that actors cannot and actors can do that dancers cannot. Pina was not interested in aesthetics. Her ground rule was, “I’m not interested in how my actors move. I’m interested in what moves them.” And that obviously is a radically difference approach. And that’s what made her dance theatre such an invention. It’s hard to think that you could, in the 20th century, create what she did. It was simple. It was a language based on our bodies. But dance was only one element of it. Some of it had dialogue, and some of it didn’t. And it had a subject that dealt with something. Pina’s way to develop this subject and find out about it was the opposite of choreography. She didn’t show her dancers a move and ask them to repeat it. She did the opposite. She didn’t show them anything.

CAZMI: What did she do then?

WENDERS: Pina developed her pieces by asking them questions about a subject. She would ask each dancer totally different questions. The dancers had to answer with their body, as precisely as possible as movement. And Pina would look at it and say, “It doesn’t convince me. Can you please be a little more specific? I want something that you can tell me.” She was very radical. This process would last weeks and months and in the end, they had hundreds of hours. They worked sometimes very intensely for a long time, and Pina would just select moments out of them. So when you saw the piece as an audience, you didn’t see choreography. You saw something that came out of their bodies.

CAZMI: When Pina Bausch passed away, you canceled the film, but the dancers convinced you otherwise. Do you think you would’ve changed your mind had they not persuaded you?

WENDERS: No, I would not have. The moment for me had finished. But they really convinced me there was a different level on which it was necessary. And I realized it was as important a film for the living as it was as an homage to Pina. We jumped back into it and it took us quite a while to record these pieces. And then the question was, “What kind of a movie is this going to be?”

CAZMI: The pieces often had opposing forces simultaneously at play, like brutality and sensuality, pleasure and pain. It was especially evident in “Café Müller.”

WENDERS: Oh yes. Rejection and attraction, loss and longing, it’s always all there. Of course, it’s always in our lives. It’s not always only loving and embracing, it’s also losing and fear. It’s all a part of life. For instance, in the hard times of her own life, when she lost her own partner, Pina’s answer was to continue working. It was her way of dealing with sorrow and grief. Dance was her answer to all of it. It was tremendous to see someone deal with grief and sorrow by creating joy.

CAZMI: It’s unusual to see 3-D technology being used outside of big-budget films. But this year you have films like yours and Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, both documentaries. Why was using 3-D so essential to telling Pina’s story?

WENDERS: I could not have done justice to Pina’s art with the craft I had at my disposal for 20 years. I felt like there was an invisible wall between what the dancers were doing on stage and the physical, contagious quality of it. I felt like I could only deliver a faint blueprint of what they were doing. I thought there must be a better way to dance. Not the outside looking in, but inside the world of dancers. It only dawned on me when I saw my first 3-D film that there was finally a language that could handle that. And there was an affinity between dance and 3-D. With every gesture, every movement, dancers discover space and create space. It seemed so obvious that you had to enter their realm in order to talk about it. For the first time, there was a tool available to access that space.

CAZMI: Have you wondered how Pina would’ve felt about the finished documentary had she been alive to see it?

WENDERS: I’ve wondered about that every single day. Pina and I had a common dream to make this film. When I finally made it without her, I felt she was looking over my shoulder the whole time. I had to ask myself questions because I couldn’t ask anyone else: Is this good enough? Is this what you were hoping for? Of course, I have to give the answers to myself. When the dancers finally saw the film, they loved it and were happy that they forced me to do it. I think Pina would’ve liked it. Pina does like it.