Thursday, August 16 , 2018, 4:22 am | Fair 66º


Cinema in Focus: ‘Pina’ Channels Moving Choreography of Dancer Pina Bausch

Engaging and full of meaning, the film is nevertheless exhausting to watch!

3 Stars — Thought-provoking

Nominated for Best Documentary at the 2012 Academy Awards, Pina is not like most documentaries. Created by Wim Wenders, who was also nominated for Buena Vista Social Club, this film is short on information but full of the choreography of Pina Bausch.

A creative dancer who allowed, and even required, her dancers to identify their deepest longings and put them into movement, Pina formed a troupe of dancers who spent decades under her watchful eye and became like a family. Dying during the filming of the documentary, it is obvious that she is in poor health as we see her skeletal form under her powerful movements.

A controversial artist who did not explain her programs but rather invited the audience to have an encounter, Pina did not want people to just read into the dances what they brought to the theater, but to have a new insight into themselves and the human condition because of what they saw. Explaining that dance began where words could no longer take us, Pina speaks to the deeper humanity we all share. Explaining that there is no correct interpretation of her choreographed scenes, she offers no words to help her audience except in a very few instances.

One such instance is her symbolic expression of the seasons of the year and, thus, of life. Using four simple movements, her troupe interrupts the film and allows us to move through the seasons together. Another explained scene is when she asks a dancer to put joy into movement. When he does so, she takes his pleasure and allows the entire troupe and audience to express and experience that joy.

The locations in which the dances occur provide exquisite backdrops to their movements. From a busy street corner, to a barren rock quarry, to a manufacturing platform, to an elegant white room, to a glass-enclosed stage, we observe the movements of a woman desiring a man so strongly that he flees, to a girl carrying her father on her back, to a mother throwing dirt on her daughter — all to a rhythmic beat of both the music and our hearts.

Exhausting to watch because of the level of physicality of the dances as well as the engagement it requires of the viewers to watch, Pina is a film that calls to our deeper humanity and presents images that get beneath our conscious explanation that language requires. As such, it is an encounter. In that way, we are sure that Pina is pleased with this representation of her work.


» Expressing feelings and experiences through movement allows each of us to enter into the angst of the dancers. Did you gain any insights as you watched Pina’s choreography?

» The obvious respect her dancers have for her and the respect she showed them in return allowed Pina to pull the best out of each of them. Have you had a similar mentoring relationship where someone believed in you and pulled out your best? Have you done so for someone you are mentoring?

» When Pina died, Wim Wenders put the film on hold, but it was her dancers who pleaded for him to complete the film. Their desire to honor her with this record of her work is undoubtedly a tribute to her. How would you want people to pay their respects to you and your accomplishments when you die?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit

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