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Film Review: Pina

Water, water everywhere in "Pina"
Water, water everywhere in "Pina"

Think of all the great dance sequences put on film - from the Kit Kat Club in "Cabaret" to the New York streets where Sharks fought Jets in "West Side Story" to anything with Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire.

Add to the list the Oscar-nominated documentary "Pina," a spectacular homage to the avant-garde German choreographer Pina Bausch.

Bausch, who died in 2009 at 68, significantly raised the bar when it came to a style of dance known as Tanztheater, which often relied on her dancers' suggestions, whether emotional memories or the subtlest of gestures. Director Wim Wenders ("Wings of Desire") has utilized state-of-the-art 3D to craft this extraordinary film of Bausch's greatest hits that's like a kinetic museum retrospective wrapping you in her brilliance.

Dozens of Bausch creations come to life both in theaters and outdoors, and there's an unmistakable organic arc; the first extended dance unfolds atop a huge square of dirt while one of the last employs rain, pools, and streams. There's a dancer seemingly taking his life in his hands on the lip of a canyon and a gowned woman wielding a leaf blower. The city streets of Wuppertal become another stage.  In one of the more moving scenes, Bausch casts one dance with actors ranging in age from teens to senior citizens. In another, she places one woman at the mercy of several mens' pats and caresses, and the dance feels at once threatening and bizarre.

Those unfamiliar with Bausch's repertoire needn't be concerned, as dancers who were present as the creation of such classic pieces as "Café Müller" explain their origins -  albeit in abstract terms and in a variety of languages, reflecting the international make-up of the company. This is an unforgettable work of art that offers up dance as the conduit to something beautiful and primal.

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Since 1998, Steve Walker has contributed stories and interviews about theater, visual arts, and music as an arts reporter at KCUR. He's also one of Up to Date's regular trio of critics who discuss the latest in art, independent and documentary films playing on area screens.