Monday, February 20, 2012

Bausch's choreography for the ages

Here's a pleasant surprise: "Pina," the film about the dance visionary Pina Bausch, will stay at the Stonecrest theater for a third week. Even at just one showing a day as of Friday, Feb. 24, it will still let dance lovers make acquaintance with a choreographer whose work has never been seen on a Charlotte stage.

There's a reason I didn't write "modern-dance lovers" above, even though Bausch was a trailblazer of that style. Inventive, surprising and compelling though her works are, a substantial part of their power comes from something that must be a byproduct of the choreography. I hope it would speak even to dance buffs whose devotion goes to other genres.

Something dawned on me as I was leaving the theater last weekend. Especially if someone is partial to classical ballet and its descendants, he or she could go through life thinking dance is mainly about the joys and sorrows of gorgeous twentysomethings. (Even in "Don Quixote," the old guy is mostly a sideshow.) Ballet's physical demands practically ensure that dancers are superannuated by the time they're into their 30s -- if they've been lucky enough to make it that far without their bodies' giving out.

Bausch is different. Though "Pina" does include a scene for a woman on pointe -- where Bausch's recipe includes an unconventional ingredient I mustn't give away -- most of Bausch's work goes nowhere near classical technique. Often, its intensity has nothing to do with sheer physical exertion.

So her dancers can keep performing into their 30s, 40s or even later. "Pina" reveals that when they do, they have an eloquence that youngsters can't equal. No doubt it's partly because they've lived in the choreography so long. But it's also because their faces and bodies are a little lived-in, too.

In "Cafe Mueller," a work that unfolds to poignant baroque music, a woman steps slowly forward. Her bare arms are by her sides, held just slightly forward -- and rotated around with their undersides exposed. It's as though she's inviting us to open her veins. The vulnerability that conveys wouldn't be half as telling if the dancer were a fresh-faced 20-year-old.

"Pina" is full of moments like that. On the way out of the theater, I ran into some members of N.C. Dance Theatre. You might think they wouldn't care about such things. But they, too, were struck by the veterans' skill and power. If you see "Pina," you may be, too -- especially if you aren't 20 any more.