There are no giant robots, alien worlds or rampaging dinosaurs, and nothing explodes — and yet Pina may be one of the most compelling applications yet of the 3-D process that Hollywood insists on cramming down our throats. Instead, there's merely the spectacle of bodies in motion, across bare stages, crowded city streets and impressively vast natural vistas, with limbs hurtling through space in an entrancing fusion of music, movement and moviemaking magic.
Unless you inhabit avant-dance circles, and chances are you don't, then you may not be familiar with the work of Pina Bausch, who served as artistic director and choreographer of the German Tanztheater Wuppertal from 1973 till her 2009 death. Her unique, earthy, expressionistic style earned her fame, and the particular admiration of such filmmakers as Pedro Almodóvar, who used her work as an important backdrop in 2003's Talk To Her. One such admirer, Düsseldorf-born director Wim Wenders, was busily collaborating on a film with Bausch until her demise derailed his plans. Her dancers, a multinational, multilingual troupe of multitalented performers, urged Wenders to continue the project, which serves as a fitting memorial to the artist.
It is a tribute, but it never becomes a dirge; there's a sprit of real whimsy here, and that is not a slight. Bausch's pieces cleverly play around with themes of gender, physical power, sensuality and the struggle of the individual vs. the will of the group in ways that are tedious in words but thrilling on screen. The dancers are always battling unseen forces, or collapsing into each other's arms, though it's never exhausting to watch this spectacle, made richer and more immediate through a three-dimensional process that actually draws us closer to the action instead of keeping it at arm's length, which too often happens in commercial dreck. Pina brilliantly shows the ways that technology and theatrical creativity can work together, a truth that the artist herself likely would've loved. —Corey Hall
Showing at the Birmingham 8 (211 S. Old Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-644-3456).