Last week, Kelly and I saw Wim Wenders's new documentary Pina
at our local arthouse cinema. I went in as a relative virgin to dance as an art form, having seen a bizarre production of The Nutcracker
at the University of Montana in 2009 (featuring the visiting Moscow Ballet, true, but also featuring, inexplicably, a GIGANTIC dancing unicorn), while Kelly had some dance training as a teen and worked as an intern at Dance Magazine
in New York City one summer long before we met. (Apparently, the Bausch piece "Cafe Mueller" -- seen in Pina
-- was also showcased in Pedro Almodovar's masterpiece Talk to Her
, but the eight-foot-tall vagina has edged "Cafe Mueller" out of my memory of the film.) I went in with faith in Wenders (whose Wings of Desire
is among the very best films I've ever seen) and his longing to honor the art of his friend, the late choreographer Pina Bausch.
However, as this was modern
dance we'd be seeing, what would I -- whose suspicion of and distaste for modernism (Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons
, in particular) elsewhere in the arts is quite thoroughgoing, whatever my admiration of Wassily Kandinsky's paintings, H.D.'s Trilogy
and George Oppen's poems -- think? Well, from the beginning (i.e. from Stravinsky in the dirt), I was rapt. It was not the dancing alone that was magnificent, but the sense I had of the creative engine behind these visions and their execution. And watching the Wenders film -- struck as I was by the trust between the dancers, by the staggering physical demands of the performances, by the symmetries and spatial relationships -- I found my mind jumping artistic tracks and articulating something of the precise reason behind my definition and love of great writing. In short: rigorous intellect, prose either muscular or pellucid or attentive to poetic device, elaborate architectural exposition, characterization that is honest even when disconcerting and empathetic even when exploring the monstrous, and a writer's faith in his or her readers to extend their reach as
readers -- these are the earmarks of great literature that I came to more clearly understand as such while seeing their parallels exhibited in the work of Pina Bausch.
The world would be diminished without Pina
-- valentine that it is to these attributes in dance as a medium, and to the confidence issuing from them -- just as it would be diminished without Marilynne Robinson's diamond-edge intellect, without Peter Carey's luxuriant image-making, without the matryoshka sentences of Howard Jacobson, without Sigrid Undset's love for even those characters of hers whom she would have us (in some degree) despise, and without Charles Dickens's faith in our trusting his lead into the rabbit warrens that are his plots.
To name just a few examples...
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