Mediation of choreography – „Pina“ by Wim Wenders

Kirjutatud kursuse “Etenduse ja multimeedialisuse semiootika” raames, eesmärgiga uurida Wendersi filmis väljendunud suhet koreograafia ja režii vahel, originaalmaterjali ülevahendamist filmikunsti vahenditega ja omapärast kaamera-tantsu dialoogi.

The essay concentrates on the aspect of remediation in the context of a dance film „Pina“, directed by Wim Wenders. Main principles taken into account are the resemiotization and remediation of the moving body and the dynamics between live-performance and filmed performance. Essay tries to point out the overall directing style and the cinematographical use of framing, camera movement and montage that create a dialogue with the bodily movements. As some locations chosen for filming the dancers are rather unique and unexpected, the establishment of stage in natural or urbanistic environments through directing is also analysed. The overall question is the relationship between dancing bodies and the camera which have been connected in the quest to mediate choreographical material and emotive content created by Pina Bausch or her students and disciples.
„Pina“ (2011) is a tribute to the legendary choreographer-director Pina Bausch, the founding figure of Tanztheatre Wuppertal which marked the birth of a new genre – dance theatre – in Europe’s performing arts sphere. The film was screened in 2D and 3D versions and it uses choreographical material originating from Bausch’s works from different periods combining documentary archive parts with performances done by filming.
In Wim Wenders’ „Pina“,performed choreography becomes mediated, filmed choreography. Here we see performativity connected to liveness combined with remediation, new layer of mediation and modelling. Two sign systems, languages and codes, those of dance and cinematography are mixed here. Filmic units are considered iconic signs, Pasolini has suggested, that cinematography uses its own double articulation, calling the minimal units „cinemes“, Eco has proposed the first articulation called „semes“ and the second articulation level iconic signs. Metz has defined cinematic language as the totality of cinematic codes and subcodes. As for dance, the minimal units can be pointed out as gestural, kinetical or mimical movements and many theoretists have also described the specific dance language, or dance code. The aesthetics of this dance film is thereby created in a combination of two art languages, two codes which are symbiotically related throughout the film.
In his article„Resemiotization“ Iedema, makes use of Jakobson’s concept of `intersemioticity’ (Jakobson1971: 261), referring to the translation of one language into another, translations among different meaning systems . The film „Pina“ can be regarded as an intersemiotic and intermedial text as in its expression plan, there has been a transfer from live theatre medium into recorded film. In some parts the live theatre medium is more present, that is the case when the choreographical material is performed on theatre stage, creating a feeling that the spectator is watching a performance or at least a recorded theatre performance. The expression plan of film language is stressed in parts, where the aspects of visual imagery (viewpoint, framing, montage, movement of the camera) is more noticeable, supporting or „commenting“ the dance.
Remediation includes an attempt „to achieve immediacy by ignoring or denying the presence of the medium and the act of mediation. Seeking to put the viewer in the same space as the objects viewed. “, is stated in Bolter and Grusin’s „Remediation. Understanding new media.“ In this dance film, camera work is solved in a way that it still preserves the liveness aspect of moving bodies, creating the close perspective through which spectator gets the impression of a live dance work. The montage and direction support the choreography, without being obtrusive and maintaining a neutral, natural viewpoint on the action. By that an invisible direction is carried out, leaving the spectator an impression of actually being present and watching the choreography in a moment it is performed. Camera moving along with the dancers, rather slow montage and editing, typical framing are all indicating this tendency to create a natural reception of dance and movement.
Body acts as the medium of the first level, the live-performing aspect is still sensible, although the medium transfers into film as the second level of mediation. Hereby, the moving, dancing body becomes the screened body. It can be seen as a manipulation of choreographical material but also the dancers’ bodily presence in general. Real-life performance, liveness and performativity can be compared to the film as a recording of original content. The original performance becomes preserved and represented, remediated as a row of visual images. As Dodds describes, there is also a need to consider the different characteristics of a ‘live body’ as compared to a ‘screen body’. For instance, at the point at which it becomes a screen body, the live body goes through an immediate metamorphosis. Framing a body and then relocating it into the context of a two-dimensional screen: the body becomes distorted. Live body takes on a different quality in a screen context, technical devices able to manipulate images of moving bodies.
For example the angle of the camera is the essential key figure in constructing the illusion of an extremely muscular torso in the scene where male dancer is hiding behind the female dancer (1.20.50’). This could not be done without the direct viewpoint of the camera lens which hides the man, only letting him show his hands like they belonged to the woman. Making an illusion and confusing the spectator through cinematographical means is the aim of this take. Here the bodies of the dancers are clearly manipulated through camera angle and framing.
Human body in the critical condition is brought to focus in the final part of the film, showing the man rising from the valley, seemingly from nowhere and performing a tense and complicated yet loose choreography on the edge. (1.22.Here the viewpoint is focused on the situation, the body and its surrounding environment, helping to demonstrate the borderline or a moment between chaos and control. If the same scene had been performed in a theatrical setting, I suppose it would not have worked in such a manner, because the environment would have seemed more safe, familiar and the focus would have turned only on body, not on the relationship between the body and the radical environment.
The transformation of a live body into a screen body is always mediated, stresses Scott. Adding that it is usually exceeded through the vision of the director. Individual perception is also paramount to the way in which a dancing body is ‘re-presented’. The various features that one director perceives as being central to dance may be radically different from another director’s ‘vision’ or ‘interpretation’. The decisions of an individual in relation to the parameters of the televisual apparatus are the fundamental factors that determine the way in which a dancing body is re-presented on screen.
The dynamics between moving bodies and moving camera is brought under focus on the basis of which a „choreography of camera“ can be noticed and described. Montage, camera angles and frames can be seen as the key components of the dynamics of directing. In „Pina“ it is possible to see the certain connection between dynamics of the camera and the dancing bodies. These two types of movement allow to see a dialogue where camera responses, corresponds or contrasts to the choreography. It is logical to assume that directing whether amplifies or reduces different movements, bringing some movements into focus and leaving others on the background. In some scenes camera moves along with the body lines and direction of the movements, in some it stays static, letting the bigger and more intense movements reveal in their full entity. Thereby, a specific choreography of camera can be tracked and analysed.
The first choreography presented is the legendary „Rite of Spring“ which is the one that brought international recognition and fame to Bausch. (4’)The stage is covered with dirt and sand, we see a distant plan, symmetry of two dancer figures. Camera moves closer, one woman is shown in full size in front, other dancer is on the background. More dancers appear while camera captures the whole choreography and all dancers inside one frame – a sense of wholeness is created, reflecting the structure of spatial organisation and lines. On-stage closer look is altered with camera standing among the empty chairs for the audience. Camera catches all the changes in directions, all the movements as a symphony creating a static dihhotomy with the dynamics of the dancers (quick movements and changes in posture, direction, speed). The symmetrical chaos around the girl who finds the significant red fabric is varied with the mimics on her face and her emotive gestures. In this scene, the camera demonstrates group choreography, collective movements and the whole. The scene ends with showing the ritualistic, strongly rhytmic and powerful synchronized motion of the dancing group. (7’) The performance continues with mass scenes, camera portrays the moving of the group as one, leaving out the detailed gestures, showing the overall choreography and amplified lines. The aim seems to have been the capturing of the stage action all at once. The repetion of choreographical patterns and the cathartic state of characters is pointed out. Camera retains distance from action, portraying the opposition of groups and individual (11’), then takes the perspective of male protagonist, showing in close-up the mimics and emotions of female dancers (12’) while the red fabric symbolising sacrifice stands in the middle of the composition. Finally the static duo and the dancing group on the background are merged, capturing all the movements done on stage.
The role of camera and the camera-choreography relationship has been conceptualized by many theoretists. Camera has been as one of the „cast members“ for Merrett (1990), stating that technological apparatus plays an essential role in dance which is choreographed for the screen. Rosiny (1994) notes: „The camera emerges in the latest film works as a sensitive partner in dialogue with the dancers, leads the actors into wider spaces, makes use of its intrinsic mobility – whether on a rostrum, tracked or carried by talented camera operators who themselves move in almost dancerly fashion…“ We can see, how camera and directing emerges as a dialogue partner, through double moving a meaningful text is composed, connecting both choreographical and directing means. Dialogue between dancer(s) and camera creates an interesting „double poetics“.
At 44.30’ camera becomes the direct dialogue partner for the dancer, as she walks closer, facing the camera, performing movements straight into the lens. Camera is here like the imaginative „ideal“ spectator who has a close and intimate look on everything that that is done and. Camera might also play the role of a mirror, where the dancer projects her movements and mimical gestures. Afterwards the camera movement becomes slowed done, as the gestures are considerate and presented in a slower manner.
Another classical (19’) piece „Cafe Müller“ is filmed from stage and the connotation of separation, loneliness, lost relationship between individuals is reflecting through the distant viewpoint. Mimics is shown from close, camera moves along, focusing on the female dancer (21’). Later on, (22.30’) the camera shows the missing contact and the wasted tries to restore it, focusing on the couple and other characters as human beings, individuals and their physical connection and drawing attention to the question of human existence and emotional needs. (26’)The rapid movements are also shown from the same angle. Later on (31’) the recorded archive material where Bausch herself dances one of the roles is mixed with the newer one filmed in the set built for this film. This creates a diachronical movement in time, using the parts of the same choreography. It also bridges two dancers performing the same emotional state under different conditions. A very close plan can be noticed in the part where the female character tries to kiss the man, but slides her mouth down to his neck, reflecting the unsuccesful attempt of imposing intimacy (35’).
There is a smooth transfer from the Cafe Müller performed on stage into the choreography presented in natural environment (35.45’). The change is executed within one frame, the furniture and dancer who were just in theatre, are now filmed on a waterfall and the choreography continues from the exact place it ended on stage. The dancer is blended into the nature surrounding her, which is carried out using the table reflections and the size of the frame. Seemingly, there are no borders between the living human body and the water, trees and clouds. By this alteration, the body in stage can be seen as unnatural, restricted and fake, while the same position in the natural environment automatically liberates the body.
Editing can be seen as an essential component of screen dance with regards to rhythm and motion. Camera work speeds up in the sceen filmed on stage (1.05’): the montage and quick frame changes are ocurring in proportion with the rapid movements and highly energetic choreography. The dynamics of directing is increased. When the choreography becomes very flowing and smooth (1.07’), the gestures fluid, the camera starts to move along with the directions provided by dancers, yet still the cuts in montage are more rapid than in many other scenes. Here, montage matches the essence of the performed material in tempo and rhythm.
Analysing the montage, framing and camera angles used by Wenders, is becomes clear that the aim has been to demonstrate the variety and of Bausch’s choreography and the technical mastery of her dancers to create a visually enjoyable viewing experience. Montage certainly leaves something out, as the spectator gets only glimpses of the full bodily movement. However, in some cases, the cinematography adds up to creation of theatrical illusion, creating performativity in the situation of visual recording.
Opening the subject of representation of body and choreographical meanings, Dodds point out, how the dancing bodies that we see on screen are constructed through the film apparatus and different technical and aesthetic approaches are employed in order to create particular representations of dance. She makes clear, that these bodies become charged with social, cultural, political and economic meanings. It is especially important in the context of the ideologial-theoretical aspect of Bausch’s dance theatre. Bausch turned attention towards the gender issues, dealing with the opression of women, questioning the conventional sociological paradigm through dance and theatre. Many of her works criticise the common perception of sociocultural gender, also turning attention to the relationship between individuals and the society. Through dance theatre, Bausch asked questions about values, politics and the human existance, always kepting in mind the aspect of humanity.
In the classical theatre situation, spectator has a static perspective and all motion is percieved from one fixed angle. Cinematography resolves this fixation, allowing the viewer, using the means of directing, to move along with the choreography, to capture the real sense of dynamics and movement. Therefore, I would suggest that at least in one point, remediating Bausch’s choreography in film serves the supreme principle of dancing – demonstrating movement and the capacities and aesthetics of human body. Spectator’s gaze is changed, specified or widened, allowing it to grasp in more various ways the nuances and detailed movements, especially on mimical and gestural level. New medium supports the content and offers new possibilities to direct the perception of the audience.
Detailed movements are shown through camera lens in a scene (41’) where a male dancer is standing in the darkened stage, presenting a choreography that mostly comprises hand and head gestures. The camera zooms in and out, turning attention to the little finger movements or turning of his head, travelling along his body following the hands’ path.
The camera movement becomes widened and more moving from side to side in the next part (1.11’). Several levels that are used, lifts done by dancers are all followed by the lens, creating somewhat aerial, light impression both in choreography and directing. The same goes for the next take of a choreography (1.12’) where camera follows all the lifts and piruettes. In the scene that portrays a male dancer supporting the falling female dancer under the open roof, camera swings smoothly from side to side, making an impression of waving (1.13.30’). Camera moves along with the dynamics of the choreogrpahy in the scene filmed in glasshouse (1.17’). In the case of the duet in greenery quite in the beginning of the film (15. 30’,) the camera moves along with the performers, enough distance to show them on the background of this natural environment in their full body-length. Camera moves left to right, forward-backward just like the dancers, following them and holding distance as a passive viewer. The falling of the woman is demonstrated fully, the amplitude of this movement is forwarded.
„Pina“ is remarkable for its choice of settings (natural surroundings, urbanistic environment, interiors) that do not correspond with the original choreography performed in theatrical situations. An older work, „The Rite of Spring“ is filmed on stage, but mainly the spaces that are used (canyon, fields, urban locations) create a perceptual distortion and dissonance, differing from usual sets for filming dance. They influence the choreography and the means of directing as film establishes the performance stage in new (found) locations. These natural, common public places become performing spaces. Landscape borught to focus takes the role of stage for the audience. As Anneli Saro puts it in her article „Establishment of Stage“: „landscape, which is elevated, i.e. staged, from its customary context/surroundings by alienation, manifests itself in its scenic quality “. When the original choreographical material is in this case presented in traditional theatre space and stage, the fact that these scenes are taken into nature and filmed in natural environments, both rural and urban areas, adds to the space an extra quality. Saro offers several stage marking possibilities, including empirical marking of the stage space (e.g. highlighting the stage; establishing the stage by the action of the performer (e.g. religious followers on the street, a lecturer during a lecture); establishing the stage by alienation (it is valid both for the organisation/design of space as well as in relation to the performers’ behaviour .
I would suggest that in this case, the stage is set up by alienation (dancing as not a common thing to do in the city centre or in a wide field) and visual framing done by means of cinema. The area that is represented visually, that fits the frame, automatically becomes the stage space, with elevated and stressed with meanings. Strong alienation can be detected in the scene which starts with the girl switching on the radio and taking seat on grass (55.10’). At first it hints natural environment, but soon the spectator starts noticing the streets, cars etc – all the scene is actually set in the cityscape. Radio playing smooth jazz, rather gentle and lyrical use of the body that indicates the intimacy between the two are conflicted with the reality surrounding the scene. The scene filmed inside the tunnel (27.30’) also creates an estrangement effect, showing us the male dancer who is wearing a ballerina costume and performing movements on the wheelbarrowi n a depressive and anxious manner. He is performing a ballet-like choreography underground, his formal posture and movements seem unnatural, somehow restrained, which is supported by the location. These „pas“ of ballet are demonstrated in a manner of estrangement as the location is an underground (metro?) tunnel full of graffiti. Deciding by his movements, the character himself is a bit confused of his situation. The camera angle allows us to see his shadow on the wall, perhaps indicating to the dualism and question of identity, two personas in one body.
The alienation is also there in the scene where the male dancer presents a stepping dance solo, clearly belonging to the stage, in the centre of a park where on the background posters, kiosks, resting citizens can be noticed (21.30’).The part where a female dancer enters the train plays with the same method of placing the theatrical action in the midst of an everyday setting. The same goes for the solo performed in public swimming pool where the directing has captured the poetics of bodily movement despite the noise and closely-packed mess of swimmers.
All the action and movement that is fitted inside frame is percieved as theatrical, the movements become choregraphed and mediated movements on two levels: human body executing the movements and camera recording those.
Although film can be considered a more „realistic“ medium than theatre, the theatricality of Bausch’s works is maintained through camera lens, choosing the environments that allow the aspect of performativity to shine through. So the principle of amplifying certain theatrical elements, expressivity of gestures and mimics of the dancers is taken from the original content into the new medium, Wender’s film. The aspect of dissonance or estrangement, which was used in Tanztheater Wuppertal’s performances is preserved while remediating the actual choreography. Weird, uncommon places, the extreme energy and passion behind every movement is succesfully reflected through camera lens and encouraged by editing and montage. The result is, that most of the scenes seem to be somehow outside or „off“ the reality which surrounds them (the time and space of the actual filming sets). While watching the surreal scenes, elements that should not seem logical, for example a lady carrying a huge branch behind her back, walking slowly while a man is carrying a woman in the background on the side of a lake, become natural and understandable in the contextual whole.
It might be the case, that the aim has not been to describe the reality, but to help the viewer enter the unique world of Bausch’s works. Also to create a natural perspective for specatator by cinematographical mechanisms. Wenders continues to communicate the same style and attitude towards content that is present in Bausch’s performances. Film is communicating the fictional and aesthetical world of the legendary creator and visionary and by doing that an interesting diegetic space is formed for and by the spectator. In the contextual whole of this dance film, all small displacements enter the complementary dialogue of movement and cinema.


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