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A Neue Road Movies Production
In association with the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch
From the 45 works created by Pina Bausch between 1973 and 2009, the choreographer selected four to be immortalized by renowned filmmaker and personal friend, Wim Wenders: Le Sacre du printemps (1975), Café Müller (1978), Vollmond (2006), and Kontakthof (1978). The idea for a joint project had been simmering between the two of them for years while Wenders sought out the right film technology that would do justice to the dramatic sweep of Bausch’s work. Then, just two days before the first rehearsal shoot was set to take place, Bausch died.
Fortunately, the dancers and filmmakers eventually decided the show must go on. PINA, a 3-D documentary, opening this month in New York and nationally in January, is a love letter to Bausch from her dancers. Though she wasn’t physically present for the film, her essence saturates its core.
Included are excerpts of three works filmed onstage at the Wuppertal Opera House in front of an audience. The crew used a special 3-D camera rig mounted on a crane, creating the extraordinary illusion of standing next to the dancers as they drench each other with arcs of water in Vollmond and romp in the layer of peat that covered the stage for Le Sacre du printemps. We see every ripple in the dancers’ gorgeous, well-muscled backs. We hear them panting with exertion. Every iconic click click click of a high heel comes through as if it were our own hearts beating.
Kontakthof was filmed later with three different castings created by Bausch: the Tanztheater Wuppertal ensemble; amateur performers between ages 65–80; and teenagers. But it’s in the additional bits where Wenders invites the dancers to share their memories of Bausch that we begin to understand what it takes to be a part of a Tanztheater creation. He zooms in on their expressive faces while we hear their words. Then we see them perform in the countryside and in urban settings of Wuppertal: a man stomps and twirls at the edge of a dusty strip mining pit; a woman cleans up fallen leaves in a park with leaf-blowing equipment strapped over her floral chiffon gown; a couple in evening clothes embraces on a street corner while the elevated train passes overhead.
And then, there is Bausch herself. Though she seldom performed in her work, there is a beautiful clip of her dancing in Café Müller. Her sinewy arms entwine her torso like vines. There are also clips of her watching her dancers at work as she did for 20 years, cigarette ever present between her fingers as a sad reminder of the lung cancer that took her before her time. She left the world wanting more of her. —Karen Hildebrand
Fabian Prioville and Azusa Seyama in Wim Wenders’ PINA. Photo by Donata Wenders, Courtesy Neue Road.
Paloma Herrera: Here and Now
Kultur Films. $19.99.
76 minutes. In English and Spanish with subtitles.
In black practice clothes in a studio at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, Paloma Herrera conjures up the lake scene of Swan Lake with a simple port de bras shift in response to the piano music. It’s breathtaking to see her working up close. Her sculpted back supporting fluid arms, her deliberate sense of breath, and her innate musicality transform her into an exquisite swan—no costumes or scenery needed. It’s one of many wonderful moments in the 2008 documentary Here and Now, which has recently been released for North American viewers.
Paloma Herrera: Here and Now, directed by Jorge Fama, follows the American Ballet Theatre principal in both her hometown of Buenos Aires, and in her adopted home of New York City, where she’s lived since she was a teen studying at the School of American Ballet. There is plenty of footage of Paloma whipping out effortless fouettés—onstage, in studios, as Odile, Medora, and Paquita. In a can’t-believe-we-get-to-see this scene, she rehearses Terpsichore to Carlos Acosta’s Apollo (what a god he makes!) in preparation for ABT’s 2006 Lincoln Center season. Then Julio Bocca and Angel Corella join her in rehearsal for Le Corsaire, and the three of them pull off amazing technical feats while laughing and joking with each other. Watching artistic director Kevin McKenzie and her beloved coach Irina Kolpakova work with Herrera, it’s clear that not only is she single-mindedly devoted to her craft, but her ABT family is extremely dedicated to and protective of her. She speaks candidly about how she respects those who guest with many companies, but being part of ABT and having a coach is what works for her.
For a ballerina who has received so much acclaim, Herrera is completely modest and down to earth. When she tells the story of auditioning on a whim for ABT at 15, her eyes still sparkle with delight. She has much love and reverence for Olga Ferri, her first teacher, who says succinctly, “Paloma is a miracle.”
Whether performing Paquita with Guillaume Côté at Teatro Colón or a tango-infused piece with Ballet Contemporáneo del Teatro San Martin in Buenos Aires, dressed to the nines at a gala or picking up a pear from the deli, Herrera radiates elegance. Behind her artistic brilliance, of course, is much sacrifice. But, as she muses in her apartment overlooking Lincoln Center, “If I could turn back time, although it’s impossible, I would do everything exactly the same.”
Carlos Acosta and Paloma Herrera. Photo by Jorge Fama, Courtesy Fotoartefama.
Dance on TV
Dive into the watery world of John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid, which airs nationally on PBS Dec. 16 (check local listings). As the final dance installment of PBS’ Fall Arts Festival series, the heartwrenching tale of unrequited love at sea is brought to life by San Francisco Ballet.
Neumeier’s production, commissioned by the Royal Danish Ballet in 2005, is based on the original Hans Christian Andersen story—no Disney-fied happy singing sea creatures here. Instead, the girlish Little Mermaid (Yuan Yuan Tan) must fend for herself in pursuit of the Prince (Tiit Helimets). Neumeier has also inserted a stand-in for Andersen: The Poet who both creates the story and participates in the action is performed by guest Lloyd Riggins, the Hamburg Ballet dancer and ballet master who helped Neumeier set Mermaid on SFB in 2010.
Visually, the production is stunning (to Neumeier’s credit as the designer), but the tight camera angles make it difficult for the viewer to appreciate the set in all its grandeur. In true Neumeier fashion, there is an abundance of gorgeous costumes for the merpeople, sailors, partygoers, and baddies. While the close-ups do capture the details, like the mix of blues and greens for the mermaids and the intricacies of their makeup, the angular lines of the backdrop and moving set get lost. And as in most stage works filmed for the screen, the group choreography is sacrificed for close shots to keep the narrative moving.
In explaining that narrative in the program’s introduction, Neumeier says that his production is one to which both children and adults will be able to relate. But there are some very disturbing elements, including the brutal way in which the mermaid loses her tail to become human, performed by the terrifying Sea Witch (Davit Karapetyan). And Tan, at her most vulnerable, spends the second act wheelchair-bound (because walking, in the original story, felt like stepping on knives).
Of course, legs or no legs, Tan’s flowing port de bras is a marvel. Sarah Van Patten, as the Princess that the Prince falls for, to the Mermaid’s despair, is lovely on camera. In fact, every dancer (from the fleeting shots that have managed to get in) looks strong. For those of us who don’t see the company often, this film, captured last May, is a chance to watch the wonderful dancers. And at just over two hours, this production is one gladly enjoyed from the couch. —K. P.
Yuan Yuan Tan in The Little Mermaid. Photo by ©Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.