Pina Bausch

The Grace in Gesture

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The Athens, Georgia mechanic you see in this photograph has no idea who Pina Bausch is. Or that dancers everywhere will see an unconscious grace in the gesture he chose to express in front of the camera. But the man who made this photograph knows. I met Carl Martin last month on a jaunt to Atlanta to accompany Gary to a photography portfolio review.  And since Gary didn’t really need a Vanna White to turn the pages of his book for reviewers to inspect, I had the chance to wander through the displays of work and meet the other selected photographers.

Carl told me that he takes inspiration wherever he finds it, and lately he’s been captivated by the same German choreographer I’ve been blogging about. Carl is a former architect from New York — not a dancer — and the Wim Wenders movie “Pina” was just a starting point for him. What he’s trying to capture is the intrinsic value and joy of what he calls public gesture. Pina spent years with her dancers, giving them emotional and descriptive cues and then developing the movements her words inspired. Carl doesn’t get as much time with his subjects – mostly working men from around the Athens area, where he lives now, who agree to help him. He lets his subjects come up with their own gesture, and then he stages them against an architecturally interesting background in natural light. The poetry is in the simplicity of the composition and sometimes its contrasts. Not surprisingly, Carl says he gets much bigger, more powerful “gestures” from total strangers than from the friends he’s tried to Shanghai into posing. He doesn’t explain who Pina Bausch is or why he celebrates her in the movements of mechanics, truck drivers or hospital orderlies. He figures their gestures tell the story anyway.

You can check out more about Carl Martin at – or if you happen to pass through Athens just strike a pose.

Pina comes to Savannah on Sunday

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On my trip to NY this summer to research Byrne Miller’s early life, I had the chance to see the 3D film “Pina” by Wim Wenders. I have never been so stunned by a film, though Wim Wenders’ work often leaves me speechless. Gary made me watch Wings of Desire when we first met, and that confused but delighted me. Then Buena Vista Social Club came along and literally awakened the world’s interest in Cuban music. Lisbon Story made me fall in love with Madredeus – the Portuguese Fada singer. I went from thinking Wenders had a knack for being in the right place at the right time to realizing he was equal to the genius he admired.

Wenders has said that he waited, almost all his life, to do a film about Pina Bausch, the great German modern dancer. It wasn’t until 3D came about that he realized why he’d waited. Unfortunately she died during the making of his latest masterpiece, but perhaps it freed Wenders to make, at last, a love story. He abandons the tradition of using archival footage as the thread – he stages Pina’s dances in modern-day Germany- in hanging trains and busy intersections, by the sides of swimming pools. He couldn’t afford the rights to the original music of her dances, so he just edits the numbers to a soundtrack that only a director who loves Fado and Tango and Son could imagine. He didn’t dabble in the usual documentary interview process, playing on our sympathies by pointing out all the hardships Pina faced. He didn’t try to draw a picture of the whole woman, her role as a wife or mother or dance pioneer – though she was all three. He let her work speak for all of that. “Pina” has no plot, but it is more riveting than any drama I have ever seen. The 3D effects are cool, but Sunday in Savannah I’ll just as happy to see the choreography the way she did when she created this amazing body of work. I may even sit through all three showings – 2, 5 and 8pm.

Pina Bausch reminds me so much of Byrne Miller — even though Pina was born 30 years after Byrne. They were both at the bleeding edge of modern dance in their time and their country. In my research I’ve learned how very influenced Byrne was by German dancers, how the art form could be argued as born there. She spoke of Pina’s predecessors, like Harald Kreutzberg, as so powerful to watch they were almost frightening. Even Pina Bausch’s mantra “Dance, dance …otherwise we are lost” reminds me of something Byrne used to say. “First there were people and then there was dance, because the people just needed to move.”