A SCENE from ‘Dancing Pina.’ (photo credit: Fontaine Films)
A SCENE from ‘Dancing Pina.’ (photo credit: Fontaine Films)
‘Dancing Pina’: Film on modern dance pioneer to air at DocAviv

The stage is a microcosm of life. The lights go up as the sun rises and the curtain falls as the sun sets. And so, in the midst of an impending crisis, with the knowledge that a premiere that had been toiled on for months had been made impossible by the COVID closures, 30 dancers from around Africa took to the beach in Senegal to dance Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring for the first and last time together.

It was not the stage they had prepared for or the peat that was waiting in sacks nearby to cover the floor. Instead of a hushed audience seated in the dark, they were curiously observed by soccer players close by. The sun set as the dancers performed the final moments set to Stravinsky’s iconic music.

This was one moment captured in Dancing Pina by German director Florian Heinzen-Ziob, which will be screened next weekend at the Suzanne Dellal Center as part of DocAviv – The Tel Aviv international Documentary Film Festival.

“The whole project got canceled abruptly,” explained director Florian Heinzen-Ziob of Senegalese dance company Ecole des Sables production of The Rite of Spring. “It was Saturday evening. We had to leave because we didn’t know how long the borders would be open. The train (of this production) was going full speed and then everything stopped. It was about seven days before they would have gone to Dakar for the premiere.“There was a feeling that we couldn’t leave. They worked for eight weeks on this and they were exhausted. It was very hot, we were in a confined place in a little village, and the dancers had worked this movement into themselves and they wanted to get it out.“They had to dance it one more time. The beach was right next to the stage. It was a place of recovery for the dancers, a place of everyday life. Two hours later we were at the airport. It was a ritual about saying goodbye, of grieving, of experiencing this dance one time.”

Who was Pina Bausch?

THOUGH HE grew up just a few kilometers away from Bausch’s company’s base in Wuppertal, Heinzen-Ziob admits that he had never seen her work until a few years ago. Bausch, who is arguably the most profound contemporary choreographer to have lived, passed away in 2009, after a decades-long career pushing the boundaries of dance. Since her death, the company she brought into the international limelight, Tanztheater Wuppertal, has sought to continue her legacy both on and off stage. A new generation of dancers has replaced those who worked first-hand with Pina, learning her choreographies from veteran company dancers.

film reel, movie, cinema (credit: REUTERS)film reel, movie, cinema (credit: REUTERS)

“The name Pina Bausch was always there, also when I was young,” says Heinzen-Ziob via Zoom. He sits in his home in Cologne, in front of a large white bookshelf stacked with tomes. Heinzen-Ziob is a documentarist and Dancing Pina and its shorter predecessor, Dancing at Dusk, mark his first forays into dance on camera.“I grew up in Dusseldorf. Pina is one of the heroes of the arts scene of our region. I never really got into contemporary dance. To me, it was really foreign. Though I hadn’t seen Pina’s work, I knew it was a big gap in my education. In 2018, I visited the archive. It was a very simple place in an old industrial building. Since she died, they’ve been collecting everything. It began from her archive, which she kept during her life, of all the notebooks and images from her works. They took this and added as much as possible. It’s not a museum, it’s a simple place.“What I found interesting was that you have all these media – film, notebooks and photos – but the art itself, dance, isn’t there. I had this strange feeling about what will remain and how very vulnerable the art form is.“Her son, Salomon, runs the Pina Bausch Foundation. He talked about all the projects they’re doing alongside the archive, taking the pieces into different contexts of dance. Two of them were the restagings of The Rite of Spring at the Ecole des Sables in Senegal and Iphigenie in Taurus at the Semperoper in Dresden. I thought to myself that this is the true archive and that it would be very interesting to document.”

IN BOTH cases, dancers who had never met Pina nor set foot in the studio with her company would dance Bausch’s choreography. This transference from one generation of dancers to the next became the basis for Heinzen-Ziob’s film. He spent hours filming rehearsals, watching rehearsal directors pass on their wealth of knowledge to a new generation of dancers.

Though the dancers in these two projects hailed from different cultures, and countries and had been trained in different movement practices, Heinzen-Ziob had the sense that their journeys into the world of Pina Bausch were similar. “I was struck by how much was similar. They come from different backgrounds, some from ballet and others from hip-hop, African dance or Latin dance. For everyone, Pina was very new. I had the feeling they had struggled with different things but the way they had to travel was the same,” he said.

In her extensive career as a rehearsal director throughout Europe, the artistic director of the Suzanne Dellal Center Naomi Perlov participated in this process countless times. “The creation can change,” she says. “When a dancer comes from a different culture and dances the same partiture, he gives his own take on it. It doesn’t change the steps but something else and very deep changes.”

For Perlov, who shared cherished moments with Bausch in Paris, “she with a cigarette and me with a croissant,” this movie speaks to the heart of what dance is all about. She approached DocAviv about screening the movie for free in the courtyard of the Suzanne Dellal Centre at sunset. “It connects to the last shot of the film at sunset on the beach in Senegal.” In addition to hosting the screening, the Suzanne Dellal Center will hold a post-screening conversation with Heinzen-Ziob, dancer Anique Ayiboe of the Ecole des Sables and former soloist of Tanztheater Wuppertal Josephine Ann Endicott. The following day, Ayiboe and Endicott will teach a workshop for professional dancers at the center.

Dancing Pina will be screened on May 14 at 8 p.m. at the Suzanne Dellal Centre. For more information, visit: www.docaviv.co.il.

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