Monday, May 28 , 2018, 12:35 am | Fair 58º


Liam Burke: ‘Pina’ in 3-D Immerses Viewers Into World of Dance

Documentary a tribute to German choreographer Pina Bausch

Pina a documentary tribute to the late, great German choreographer Pina Bausch, is playing now at the Arlington Theatre, 1317 State St. in Santa Barbara, and anyone interested in filmmaking should see the revolutionary effect that 3-D has on the medium of dance.

But be prepared for some drab moments if “dance theater” is not your cup of tea because the extraneously slow and cerebrally motivated movements that have often earned the label “self-indulgent” do send you into a lull halfway through the film. The upside is that the 3-D allows the audience an unprecedented immersion into the dance world, and in this case, makes some cathartic choreography appear as live as a performance could ever be.

German writer/director Wim Wenders manages to make industrial Wuppertal, Germany’s bleakest town, look reasonably attractive. Much of the documentary takes place at Tanztheater Wuppertal, a purpose-built space for Bausch. Six tip-trucks unload dirt (yes, dirt) onto the Tanztheater stage for Bausch’s popular work, a modern take on the Rite of Spring.

A phalanx of women perform an exulting dance with elbows shunting back into their own ribs, feet stomping sideways and abdomens contracting, revealing a base of Martha Graham technique. Meanwhile, one woman lies on a “blood-red towel,” a more literal interpretation of Rite, if you know what I mean, and the pumping of the lungs and audible heavy-breathing is palpably directed toward the audience in 3-D.

The result is quite spectacular, but later, another famous work of Bausch’s, Cafe Muller, does not transfer as well. Dated choreography happens on and around dozens of chairs and tables. One woman is repeatedly dropped to the floor with a thud so stagnant that you just want the dance to come back.

One has to remember that European dance companies are largely government funded, which gives choreographers the great luxury of creating work that may not have any commercial appeal whatsoever. Considered “serious art” in Bausch’s heyday, the 1970s and ‘80s, modern dance got somewhat stuck in this indulgence.

Wenders’ gets stuck, too, and fails to get to the heart and soul of the artist. We learn nothing of Bausch’s early life, her inspiration, her process or her personal life, and instead the film is a series of dance montages, sometimes comical in retrospect. While the dancers repeatedly mention Bausch’s inconsolable loneliness, we never understand why, and we can only assume that the source of her sad and lonely life came from living in boring, old Wuppertal.

One dancer does explain the questions Bausch asked her dancers over the years; “What are we longing for?” and “Where does this yearning come from?” Perfectly thought-provoking questions, but perhaps that is where the medium lost its way because it is exactly these “longing stares” and “internally yearning gestures” that have made this work inaccessible to many audiences. A new generation of choreographers has worked to stamp out the misconception that “dance theater” is all slow and cerebral movements that are “longing” to be “understood.”

Thankfully this period in modern dance has largely ended (though clearly not in Wuppertal) and also has been satirized by a new generation with the likes of “Modern Dance Is Not A Dirty Word,” choreographed by Australian former Chunky Move Dance Company Director Gideon Obarzanek.

Wenders, whose work has been staggeringly diverse, from the brilliant “Paris, Texas” and “Wings of Desire” to the “Buena Vista Social Club,” has taken 3-D, a shock and thrill effect, and turned it into a kind of visceral magnifying glass that may elevate dance on film to its rightful place in the entertainment chronicles. One can now imagine films such as Chicago and Catherine Zeta-Jones spinning toward you with a 3-D murderous intent, and the strength of not only her voice but the power of her kick in the flesh.

Pina plays daily at 2:15 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the Arlington Theatre.

Noozhawk contributing writer Liam Burke covers dance and has been published in Dance Magazine, Dance Australia and The James White Review. He can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Supporter

Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >