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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pina & Merce—Critical Pixie Spirits

Pina, courtesy of IFC Films
Pina, Wim Wenders' 3-D tribute to choreographer Pina Bausch (1940—2009), opens December 23 at BAM Rose Cinemas—a most fitting theater, since BAM was the sole New York venue for Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch's many enthralling live performances. The company appeared at BAM a dozen times starting in 1984, and most recently in 2010 with Vollmond, featured prominently in the film.

There are countless reasons to see it, foremost among them that it's by the remarkable German filmmaker Wim Wenders, whose films include Paris, Texas, Wings of Desire, and Buena Vista Social Club. A primer on Bausch's ravishing brand of tanztheater, Pina also provides fascinating insight into the minds of current and past company members. And unless you've danced with Tanztheater Wuppertal, you've never been more immersed in the onstage (and outdoor) action, plunged into a world of intoxicating color, depth, and emotion.

The film also brings to a drawn-out close a particularly poignant period at BAM, in a December which also saw the final mainstage New York performances by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Cunningham and Bausch passed away within the span of a month in 2009, and the dance world spun off its axis for many moons after that. In a sense, it's still off-kilter. BAM happened to be a nexus for both Merce and Pina, and their deaths shadowed that bright, hot summer with a profound sadness.

As for this month... We saw Merce's modern invention one last time, and gave the company's singular dancers a proper send-off before they disband in January. And although Pina's company continues to operate and tour, Wenders' Pina is a huge parting bouquet to Bausch. She spent so much time in the Howard Gilman Opera House—conducting rehearsals, chain smoking (years ago), giving notes in her shy but magnetic voice. It's tempting to imagine that during MCDC's run, her spirit lingered in the opera house—the tech table, the flyspace, the apron that her dancers so often crossed—alongside that of Merce, who, too, logged some serious hours in that theater. I picture them huddled together, critical pixies, wafting from Opera House to cinema to watch over their respective companies, exchanging notes and giggles.

(See Evan's staff pick here).

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