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Dancing the Big Question

Vic Sizemore

bausch.span A woman and a man are on a stage, hugging as a husband and wife in a kitchen late at night, comforting one another in some common grief. A man from behind walks around and moves their limbs like mannequins until the woman is cradled in her man’s arms. His arms slowly give way and she falls. She immediately jumps up and embraces him in their original hug. The man from outside returns, places her back in her man’s arms. He cannot hold her. She falls. On like this ever more quickly until the outsider is gone and woman is repeatedly hurling herself against her man, who cannot hold her even for a few seconds anymore. She jumps on him and crashes down. She jumps and crashes. This is one of the many unsettling scenes from Wim Wenders’ movie Pina, about late German dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch.

Although generally critics appear to agree that Wenders’ moviemaking skills are at top form in Pina, it came in for harsh criticism for other reasons. For example, Joan Acocella in the New Yorker believes his use of her early work failed to do justice to the despair of her late work. Acocella also criticizes Wenders’ choice of filming many of the scenes outside. She claims that it removes the feeling of “no exit” that we would feel in a theater setting. “Once the torture is taking place outdoors, you think, Why doesn’t she just walk away from that terrible guy? Why doesn’t she go across the street and get a cup of coffee?”

A homesteader I once knew told me he did not fence in his goats. Instead, he strung a small fence around some of his fruit trees and vegetables, and the goats would stay of their own will, searching for a way to get to the fruit on the inside. I don’t know if that is true, but I do know that it is a good representation of why the woman wouldn’t leave. Pina said what she wanted to portray in her works: “What are we longing for? Where does this yearning come from?”

In The Art of the Novel Milan Kundera writes that the novelist’s job is to explore the protagonist’s “existential problem.” This is what Pina does with her dance. There it is, the pieces repeat, just beyond reach. We damage one another as we hurl ourselves at it, but we do not give up. Is the portrayal of humanity’s dogged pursuit of connection one of despair? Or is it hopeful?