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.
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…