Action blockbusters, animations and fantasy films have had the 3D treatment and now it’s the turn of dance. Well-regarded German documentary specialist Wim Wenders (Bueno Vista Social Club) is the man who has brought the world of dance into the new age of film-making, with his tribute to the influential modern-dance choreographer Pina Bausch.

As a long-term fan of Pina’s work, Wenders took significant inspiration from her notions of unbridled and unabashed movement. He wanted to transport her boundary-breaking movements to the big screen and the two got together and a project was conceived. Tragically, just days before filming began, Pina died. She had been diagnosed with cancer less than a week prior to her death.

After much deliberation and discussions with the dancers and Bausch’s family, Wenders decided that rather than let the whole project dissipate, he would reinvent the film as a lasting tribute to Pina’s creations and visions and let those who she nurtured, inspired and broke free from the mould speak in dance. The members of the Tanztheater Wuppertal Troupe play out sections of Bausch’s famous pieces, including Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) and Café Mϋller, as well as presenting their own solo performances.

Wenders wanted Bausch to be with him every step of the way, guiding him and the viewer through every element of her vision of dance and her shows. He said he imagined the documentary as a “road movie” following the performers on tour, trying to get a close-up view of the raw energy of modern dance – and Bausch herself – like never before. In the film Wenders finally finished, he captured this by delivering a stunning 3D dance experience and showing how the Pina’s philosophy is personified in every dancer she has taught and that we see on screen.

The dancers explain that it was usually just a word, a phrase or just a question that their mentor had given them in order for them to find freedom of expression and the essence of their inner self and emotions and translate it into dance.
Wenders and the dancers present a feast of colour, a cosmopolitan kaleidoscope of bodies and theatrical, industrial and natural arenas – mountains, stages, trains, glass boxes, motorway intersections – like canvases to the dancers’ artistic pallets. This is all brought to life by dramatic music, the dynamic dances themselves and the 3D visuals, letting the viewer almost feel the beads of sweat dripping off the performers.

We get to experience almost an hour and a half of pure energy and emotional expression in the dancers’ performances and it is hard not to be amazed by what we see. Old and young, weathered and beautiful, angry and ecstatic; the dancers are both synchronised and paradoxical. Pina’s dance patterns and influence transcends restrictions such as age and gender. The unashamed nature of this troupe means there are moments of puzzlement, hilarity, as well as jaw-dropping wonder for the viewer to enjoy before realising that these dancers or artists are completely and enviably free.

Pina is like a work of conceptual modern art and the format of the documentary, with the dance pieces, Wenders’ narration, plus musings and reflection make it feel like a feature length video from a Tate Modern installation. The ghostly figure of the late Pina Bausch appears like a spectre or deity moving amidst the work, sprinkling her magic upon the dancers.

Some elements of the film and the performances are quirky, absurd and simply bizarre, while others demonstrate incredible shapes, velocity and physical exertion. Pina is stunning on all levels and you could not imagine a more honest, expressive or ambitious dedication to a choreographer who brought unrivalled freedom to an art form.

Pina 3D (U)
Directed by Wim Wenders
Starring: Pina Bausch and the Tanztheater Wuppertal Troupe
Running time: 104 minutes

Pina 3D is showing at the Rio Cinema until 11 May.