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Dancing Dreams: In the Footsteps of Pina Bausch

February 28, 2016

Directed by Rainer Hoffmann and Anne Linsel, 2010.
City Gallery Auditorium
February 28 2016
Event page

After Friday’s ballet bonanza and with tickets booked for Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring right at the end of the festival, a free screening of a documentary about dance seemed like a great idea.

And great idea it was! ‘Dancing Dreams’ was the best kind of art documentary, giving ample demonstration of why art is important, and the value that performing can have for anyone, regardless of whether they are the greatest in the world or even trying to be.

The documentary is tightly focussed on a group of German high school students, two dance teachers, and Pina herself. Parents aren’t interviewed, the audience isn’t interviewed, it’s all about the small and close-knit world that developed when they all volunteered (with no dance experience) to participate in a year of rehearsals culminating in a real stage performance of Bausch’s Contact Zone.

The documentary mostly chooses a handful of the students to follow in depth as the preparations go on. There’s frank discussions of the awkwardness and self-consciousness of eg. a scene where a pair have to undress themselves while sitting on chairs on the opposite sides of the stage. Even touching someone else is a troubling idea for some (I remember those days from school dance class). There’s also some personal background from some of the students about some really awful pasts, like one student whose father was killed (“sort of burned alive”) in the early 90s during the Bosnian crisis.

There is a good dose of the students learning to trust each other, become a community, lose their inhibitions and grow as people, which is lovely and important of course. But equally the documentary shows how performing something can make you really care about it and believe in it as a work of art and a worthy task. Some of the things that the dancers are asked to do are pretty weird and you can see how the students don’t quite ‘get’ it, and some of them even say exactly that. They are generally bewildered and overwhelmed by the complexity of what they have to learn and what they have got themselves into at the start. But by the end they are stressing about making tiny mistakes, their inner drive to really perform the work to a convincing level being their main concern.

Dancing Dreams Pina Bausch_1

It’s also fantastic watching how much the teachers love what they get from the students. Their tone goes from strict and sometimes frustrated instruction to a very strong desire that everything goes well for the kids, not just for the show. You find out so much about artistic performance from watching people teach and learn, and there are some great moments where the older teachers are demonstrating the moves and you can see how good they are themselves, like a great singer demonstrating something in a masterclass. So you understand the difference between the amateur and the professional, but also see that actually a year of learning can get you a long way. The work isn’t extremely physically demanding like a traditional balletic show, but it requires the students to do a lot of physical acting and there are great scenes of them gradually coming to understand the idea that they are acting out characters and have to leave behind their own worries about how they look.

When Pina herself turns up there’s a great joy in seeing both the stress of the students (which is kind of expected) and the stress of the teachers (who are probably far more aware of the status of this legendary figure. They all seem to have tons of fun together and they are all quite surprised I think by how great the experience is for everyone involved.

This was a low-key but well-made film about one small performance by a bunch of unknown dancers, a performance that made one of the masters of the form smile and laugh and probably feel like I did: “This is what art is for”.

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