Pina - a film by Wim Wender

In this intriguing and fascinating film, the director Wim Wenders creates an elegy for his friend of 25 years, the German dancer, choreographer, and director of Tanztheater Wuppertal, Pina Bausch. It is telling that this is advertised as a being a film “for” Pina Bausch rather than “about” Pina Bausch. This is not a documentary but rather a tribute to this extraordinary creative artist; an eulogy since Bausch died a few days before the start of shooting the film and the sense of her loss permeates every frame.

Pina Bausch herself directed one film, Die Klage der Kaiserin (“The Complaint of the Empress”), in 1990, and Wenders parallels the form of that earlier film to a remarkable extent, as though channeling the recently deceased choreographer. Both films consist of an assemblage of choreographed scenes without explanation. In Wenders’ case, this includes scenes from Pina’s stage productions, in addition the choreographed dances and action outdoors in the countryside and in city streets that both use. Both films share a scene of a dancer sweeping leaves with a leaf blower however Wenders has nothing as startling as Pina’s image of dancer sitting on an armchair in the middle of city traffic nonchalantly smoking a cigarette. Perhaps the most striking of Wenders’ images is that of alternating age groups in a stage production that seem to change with every blink of the eye.

In remembering Pina, Wenders conveys, through the medium itself, themes that Pina had conveyed in her own film and dance: a sense of loss, of disorientation, physically and emotionally, searching, trying to find one’s way literally or metaphorically, eyes bound or closed. Maybe one could condense these into one over-riding theme: Finding your way in an a surreal world.

Pina Splashing Water
The film was shot in 3D and this is used to give depth and clarity to the images. Only once does the third dimension call attention to itself, when dancers splash water onto a rock and those splashes appear to fall onto the viewer’s laps.

This is such a beautiful, funny, sad, intriguing, captivating film that the viewers cannot help but share in Wenders’ sense of wonderment and loss and though this vision we feel the force, almost physically of Pina Bausch when she said “Dance, dance … otherwise we are lost.”


Theater Grottesco "Storm"

Storm is a collaboration between Theater Grottesco and Out of Context orchestra which was presented at the CCA Muñoz Waxman Gallery, Santa Fe, February 17 – 26, 2012. A quasi-improvised theater work, Storm takes as its themes some of the most challenging concerns of our day: the environment, development, climate change, economic exploitation. I say “quasi-improvisational” because the piece was scripted but imagine the script being torn up into fragments and those fragments being presented at each performance in a different, maybe chance, order. No dice were thrown and, as far as I know, the I Ching was not consulted so this was not strictly a chance or aeliatory production. However, no two performances were similar.

I suppose that the themes could be losely characterized in an all-encumpasing way as the human condition in the modern world, or as John Flax, Artistic Director of Theater Grottesco, put it, “The chaos of our contemporary lives”. Lack of depth in exploring any one of these issues was more than made up for by the passion with which it was presented. The actors John Flax and Lee Reed held the attention throughout as each potrayed a number of characters who wove in and out of the video and projected sequences. Live action, projected written quotations, graphics, and video sound bites, all contributed to an enthralling production.

In its 29th Season, Theater Grottesco was formed in Paris in 1983.The company sets out to “crash classical theatrical styles with a poetic research of culture and iagination”. Out Of Context orchestra was formed by J. A. Deane in 1997 to explore musical conduction with a modern chamber orchestra and to add an actor into the expression. Conduction is real-time musical composition in which musicians produce sounds from their instruments in response to signs and gestures from the conductor.

Unfortunately there was a disconnect between the action of Theater Grottesco and the accompanying music of Out of Context because the sounds which were created by the conduction had no meaning. All of the visual material, all of he live-acted material, random in order though they might have been, all had meaning. The projected words were meaningful quotations, the video snipits contained coherent statements, the actors actions and portayals were recognizable, made contextual sense, and their words were understandable.

But there was no coherence to the music. The equivalent to the Theater Grottesco technique would have been for Out of Context to have performed recognizable fragments of relevant music in a random, or chance order. As it was, the music was merely an assemblage of sounds that made no sense and had no meaning beyond being a background, and sometimes foregound, carpet of noise. That is not to say that on its own terms, the ensemble could provide a stimulating experience in itself. But here, Out of Context created a cacophony that was a distraction which detracted from, rather than contributed to, what could have been a truly powerful theater work.