Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino’s summer season is well under way. Every summer the Florence based classical music organisation presents performances in the square outside of Palazzo Vechio, Piazza della Signoria.
This “Gala of Dance” comprised of a variety of musical pieces performed by the company’s ballet dancers. From Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Nights Dream to contemporary works composed by Yo Yo Ma, there was a great variety of pieces performed. Unfortunately the choreography was substandard and repetitive. Why have dancers laying on the floor when 95% of the audience would be unable to see them. The contemporary dance choreography to Yo Yo Ma’s music was frankly boring. It entailed a dancer who seemed like she had never touched a sword before in her life trying to convince the audience that she was in fact so capable with the weapon that she could easily dance with it in hand. The addition of an east Asian inspired robe did nothing to aid the referencing. A group rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake bordered on the edge of a school recital-like performance with all of the dancers in white lycra body suits dancing over and under one another’s linked arms.
It would also have been preferable to have the accompanying music performed live, perhaps by Florence’s youth orchestra, rather than recorded music. It would have added to the outdoor atmosphere and increased the vibrancy of the performance.
Despite the criticisms, it is wonderful to offer art to the the general populace for free. A great endeavour in fact. The audience swelled as the time passed, locals and tourists alike. A better setting than than in front of Florence’s ancient buildings and iconic statues I would struggle to imagine. The most enchanting part of the evening was seeing the dancers’ silhouettes outlined over the form of David and on the wall of the symbolic Comune di Firenze building.
Pina has been dubbed the first ever 3D art house film and in a climate where there seems to be a plethora of insipid 3D popcorn flicks churned out by the Hollywood machine, this is a breath of fresh air and is truly a magnificent celebration of a legend in modern dance, presented in a form that truly does her work justice.
The movie was originally conceived way back in the 80’s where the director, Wim Wenders saw Pina Bausch’s Café Muller. After building a close relationship with her, Wenders felt her work could be further explored through film. This idea however took a rather lengthy hiatus of more than 20 years as Wenders felt the technology had not yet reached a stage where her work could be fully appreciated.
The eureka moment occurred when Wenders saw U2:3D in Cannes and finally felt that technology had caught up with their vision.
Wenders is a Palme D’or winning director and has been responsible such critically acclaimed documentaries as The Buena Vista Social Club and The Soul of a Man. This was a man clearly qualified in bringing such an ambitious project to fruition.
The film suffered a significant setback just before production was to begin when tragically, Pina Bausch died of cancer. Wenders abandoned the project as a result but thankfully it was then resurrected after a campaign by Pina’s family, the dancers and staff.
The film follows live footage of some of Pina’s most famous works including Café Muller and Sacre de printemps as well as following members of the group, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, around the Germanic town of Wuppertal where they perform routines inspired by the ethos of Bausch. They also talk of the impact she had on their lives, illustrating through pithy anecdotes, the lasting impression she has left forged on them. The character of Bausch is drawn vividly in the mind of the audience through these anecdotes; the film does not take a biographical look at her life, which I feel was the correct decision because she is ultimately defined by her work and it is maintained through the experiences she shared with others.
Throughout, I was completely transfixed by the sheer beauty of the dancing and was struck at how liberated it was and unlike anything I had ever seen before. The movements were a pure manifestation of feeling, made all the more powerful by the training they had received under Bausch’s tutorship. When I watch the dancers move, at times I felt I was watching something almost primordial, devoid of thought and it conveyed richness in its purity of action.
Interestingly, a popular technique used by Pina Bausch to motivate her dancers was the method of questioning. She would pose a question to her dancers such as, ‘What would you do with a corpse?’ or ‘Do something you are ashamed of?’ and ask them to explore that question using improvised dance. The dance would therefore have to come from the quiet, inexplicable parts of the psyche and there really is sense of this when you are watching the dancers perform. Incidentally, Wenders also chose to use this technique during the making of the film.
The footage of the dancers performing around Wuppertal offer carefully chosen landscapes in order to magnify the 3D effect with an interesting mix of the urban and industrial contrasted with the surrounding natural environment played out to an eclectic soundtrack that really enriched the visuals, and something I am very keen to add to my collection.
Overall I was at times overawed by this visually opulent and cerebral 3D celebration of the work of a true genius.