Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pina: Dance & Philosophy

When we love something, and are passionate about it, we want to help others to love it as we do and when we succeed in doing that, we have transcended a barrier that locks us and others within ourselves. In Pina, the Oscar-nominated documentary about the modern dance artist Pina Bausch, is her interpretation of Igor Stravinsky's 1913 ballet The Rite of Spring that helped me to love it as she does (and I seriously never liked it, but until I saw the film, I just didn't have someone who could make it accessible to me, but she did).
"Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost," supposedly the last words Pina spoke. What do they mean? Throughout the film, you get the wonderful privilege of engaging with the dancers, and their memories of Pina. She was always telling them to go deeper within themselves, and that's what it means. To dance is to give the world your answer for the complexity of existence, the complexity of love, the complexity of life and death, fear and pain, hope and wonder. But before you can give that answer, you have to learn how to ask the questions, realize that there are questions and each of us must answer them. But Pina tells us it's not enough to ask the questions, we must find the answers, then we have to find a way in which to articulate the answers so that we understand them, and we can help someone else to understand them, too. To dance is to not "get lost" in the possibility that there is no answer, there is, Pina knew, and she danced that answer for us, by showing us (not just telling) how intimate moments of existence really are, especially when our intimate moments collide against another's intimate moment. For Pina, to dance meant to always be searching, asking, answering, living, and each of her pieces reveals her mastery to us.
When I came out of the theater after having seen it, the usher taking the 3D glasses asked how I liked it and I said I loved it; I asked him how he liked it, and he replied, "Not so much," and it IS abstract, it's not going to be for everyone, but I found it so enjoyable that I stopped taking notes (which is probably what Pina would have wanted) and just felt the dances.
In Byzantine icon art, it was typical to have a whole line of of people, each only slightly different than the person beside them; it gave the idea of coherence and harmony, while avoiding abstract patterns that lost the viewer's attention. Pina, in the scene of the dance of the seasons which not only opens the film, but runs continuously throughout, provides us with that same aesthetic: each dancer does the same movement with their hands, but each does it slightly different, making a vibrant line of each person bringing their own personality, their own philosophy, to the motions and to the meaning. This particular shot also invokes The Seventh Seal by Ingmar Bergman.   
I always try to make sure that readers know that I know that I am not making a definite statement about what something means, there is only the frame of reference in which each of us exists, and we can share out perspectives about life and art, but none of us have a total viewpoint but each viewpoint should help others to see their own viewpoint better, because in seeing our own viewpoint, we discover who we are, and the better we know ourselves, the better we can come to know others. Without knowing the name of the dance sequence in the clip below, I thought it was about depression, and how we "lean on each other," and the noble role some people take in "upholding" others:
Knowing the sequence is called Trust gives it an entirely different flavor; or does it? That's for you to decide. But, if we are going to "dance," as Pina exhorts us to do, there is more than one way to dance, but there is only one source from which every form of dance comes: within. It's impossible to make the inner journeys necessary without someone else, without the love and steadfastness of those who can prevent us from getting lost within. It's also true, however, that we can't join ourselves with another until we have found ourselves first.
There is only one person in the Trust performance above: the man in black--black symbolizes death--is the part of the self that must die in order for the dignity of the new self to come into full being (the woman in the gold dress symbolizes self-worth, dignity, what we have when we attain wisdom at various stages). The woman in the gold dress is like the baby taking the first steps, while the inner-part about to die, about to resign complete control of the full being (the man in black), helps the new-found dignity to gain strength and presence so as to rule the self completely. (As always, this is just my interpretation, but I hope it will help you in finding your own).
Wonderful location. The glass, of course, means "reflection," as in meditation, but the shadows upon the floor are bars, like a prison. The separation of the natural--the world outside--and the artificial, the construction of the building, can be found throughout the film, in all the sequences. Everything is carefully chosen and considered, nothing is done lightly.
The locations are really important, for example, in Trust, the abandoned building has large, square holes cut out, including in the ceiling; but is it abandoned? Instead, has it been cleaned out, emptied of all that is worthless, that is clutter, that is unnecessary? And that is why it can have the holes, or, should we say, the windows, to reflect and observe, and that, the rush of wisdom and experience is what has to be trusted, because it makes you so small, so insignificant, but also dignified (the gold dress of the dancer) and that's why it's been done, the journey, taken and you your self have been completely taken. If we do decide that there are not two people in this dance sequence but only one, one that has realized there is more inside than previously imagined, than we come to trust the journey we are on, and why we are on it.
That is art.
Isn't this how a relationship works? The ups and the downs, the highs and the lows, the slow pacing and the sudden rush. The sudden exit. The love song in the background, in the background of our hearts and minds that thinks, "This is how it goes, this is how a relationship works and this song tells me how I can know if it's real," yes and no, because the song (or film or whatever art form you like) does share experience, but no in that each of us will experience intimacy differently, and for some, the real romance is being alone, with your inmost self.
Unsure of what this sequence is titled, I still loved it. The man begins by carrying the woman on his back, then he puts her down and she carries him. In the background, the woman in the red dress carrying the tree on her back symbolizes to me that, when we carry someone from love (the red dress) we receive life because of it (the tree). The drudgery of the daily problems (the foreground couples muted clothing) is hard and tedious work, but in the background is what is really happening and why we should do it.
It's not that the traffic in the Love sequence is extra-topical, but an appropriation Pina has made (something existing outside what she could control--the dance and dancers--but she has brought it in to include it within her own art) and that's because the cars and noise can be our racing thoughts, the stop lights of fear, the green lights of hope and the yellow lights of caution, our race towards our destiny and future, the intersections and collisions, all of it, always.
A perfect example of how our fragility is also our strength. The woman is fragility--a theme discussed in the film--and the man symbolizes strength. To be fragile is to always be in a state of growth and pain. It's never fun, and we never want it, but when we have been smashed up, that allows us to grow into something better and stronger than before; those too strong to be smashed up usually just die within.
One of the dancers interviewed remembered Pina telling her that, "I have to get crazier," (not meaning in terms of the types of dances they did, but a willingness to relinquish mental control) and that descent into madness Pina advocated could be called a willingness to go completely within, devout yourself entirely to the cause of finding your inmost self. Here is The Rite Of Spring clip from the film; it's perhaps the most abstract of all the works included, but in its mystical way, it's also the most beautiful:
Actually, it's probably not the most abstract of all of them, maybe that goes to the Cafe Muller (full clip below). But this is the thing about dance: if it's not abstract, it's only motions; if it's abstract, then it's motions and philosophy; and what is it that defines "abstract?" In the beginning of the film, a woman comes out and talks about the seasons, giving little hand gestures for the dominant, natural occurrence at the proper time of the year (such as freezing for winter). With this most simple of dances, Pina instructs us on what the language of dance is, why it is a language and how we can learn to listen to ourselves when we watch others. It's not simple, but nothing in life is.
Pictured just above is what might be the strangest of the dances: veal ballet shoes. The dancer takes two veal patties and puts one in each of her ballet shoes, then dances in this industrial setting; during the whole performance, she is on her toes as pictured (I know there is a technical term for it but I don't know the term). The veal could be said to be the dancer's own body that she/he turns into chopped meat in a sacrifice to dance and the industrial setting is the way the dancer has turned the body into a product, a manufactured product even, because of the torment they put themselves through; how do we, the question arises, put veal in our ballet shoes?
The elements are very important in Pina's works, especially earth and water. In this sequence at a swimming pool, the green dress can mean rebirth and hope as a result of cleanliness from a spiritual washing.
One reason to see Pina, if you are on the fence, is this will be a film influencing other film makers in the upcoming years. In some way or another, those in Hollywood who see this will have their own art influenced by Pina's art, that's just how it works. Another reason to see it if you are interested is that it has a 94% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (94% of critics liked it and 81% of viewers liked it).
Pina Bausch.
In conclusion, the Academy felt Pina was worthy of an Oscar by the standards of film making and I find the dances preserved and explored therein to be of the highest standard of art. Art should never ever be snobbish and we should not let others dominate our tastes and what we ourselves like, so if this doesn't look interesting to you, don't hesitate to not watch it, don't guilt yourself into doing something you don't want to do because art is always for us, the audience, the viewer, the consumer (the person who will ingest it and digest it and make it a part of themselves) and if we are not going to consume art, we should find the art we do want to consume. If you do decide to watch it, I hope you will enjoy it and that the world of dance will be opened to you as it has been for me! (While Pina contains only selections of Cafe Muller, the entire clip is here and Pina herself does dance in this clip).