What had started out as a collaboration between the German film director Wim Wenders and the choreographer Pina Bausch became impossible when she died in 2009, just days after receiving a diagnosis of cancer. Mr. Wenders went ahead with his film, showcasing Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, without her but for her.
Damiano Ottavio Bigi and Clémentine Deluy in Wim Wenders’s 2011 film, “Pina.” Font: NYTimes
When “Pina” was released in 2011, there was much to admire, especially in the way dance segments came to life with dimensionality and amplitude. Even as the movie fleshes out Bausch’s career, the dancers aren’t left behind. In a way, they are its stars.
The film has endured, and has done something important: It made Bausch even more recognizable outside of the dance realm, allowing aspects of her choreography to find acceptance in the mainstream world. And that’s gold.
It’s not so much that the film or Bausch have influenced other choreographers, but that “Pina” has helped make modern dance, which can look odd out of context, more palatable for general audiences.
Despite the fact that there’s still great dance happening in both big and tiny spaces, audiences are dwindling. And if a movie or a television show can give modern dance a boost and make it less intimidating or alienating, then I say well done.
Mr. Wenders’s “Pina” has its faults. Without Bausch’s eye, the film can veer into sentimentality. As the dancers take turns sharing memories about their mentor — their voices are heard on recordings as they gaze into the camera for video portraits — they seem mannered, self-conscious. It makes me wince just as much now as it did then.
But when those dancers are really moving, the film creates the opposite effect. Brit Marling, the star and co-creator of the Netflix show “The OA,” in which five characters discover they have a special power when they execute five movements in unison, spoke to me about “Pina” earlier this year. She brought up a scene in which the dancers performed “The Rite of Spring”: “There’s something so immediate about dance and primal maybe because it’s a space without language and so it doesn’t feel like it requires as much of a translation,” she said. “The intent is immediate.”
Bausch’s dance-theater works were not always as violent as “The Rite of Spring,” which is part of the company’s season at the Brooklyn Academy. As Mr. Wenders’s film reveals through group works and intimately filmed solos, her love of the absurd wasn’t just an excuse to wedge a weird moment into a dance, but a way to celebrate a dancer’s willingness to take an emotion or a memory all the way.
Trailer of the film
Narrating for the Criterion Collection DVD of “Pina,” Mr. Wenders says that Bausch was “opening our eyes to discover the hidden language in ourselves.”
Dance of any kind isn’t just about a physical body performing choreography. There must be something to give it depth, so even with a conceptual work, it’s right to ask: What is the underlying emotion? What is the spirit? When you can tap into that, it’s as if you are listening to — and perhaps even understanding — that hidden language that Mr. Wenders tries to reveal in his film.
You can sense that underlying emotion — even if you can’t pinpoint what it means — in Ryan Heffington, who choreographed “The OA” and videos by the pop artist Sia. His work makes much of Bausch’s use of repetition and eccentric, briskly executed gestures.
You can also see it in “The Fits,” Anna Rose Holmer’s 2015 film about a young girl who is overtaken by involuntary, seizure-like movements in which the body refuses to behave. And you can see it in Lily Baldwin and Saschka Unseld’s recent virtual-reality film, “Through You,” in which movement and gesture take possession of the viewer in a way that, for me at least, has never been replicated.
“Pina” shows that you don’t need to be moving yourself to get something out of dancing. Bausch’s primal-pedestrian approach to choreography is nothing new, but the public’s willingness to accept it is. “Pina” may not change the way the world sees contemporary dance, but it has made a crack that grows wider each year. I’m grateful.