Last night upon finding I had an extra hour from the Daylight Savings fairy, I decided to rewatch one of my favorite movies, Pina, the Wim Wenders documentary about the choreographer Pina Bausch. I first watched this in theaters when it rolled into Cleveland’s Cinemateque and was so struck by its visual beauty and charged emotion that I watched it again every day it was offered at the theater.
The documentary was a collaboration with Pina but she died prior to its finish and though Wenders wanted to cancel the production, her dance company convinced him to continue and it became a tribute to some of her best known works as well as being more showing, or in this case, dancing, then telling.
Being a musician, I am always looking to other art forms to see how they deal with the same problem and advantage of not having a concrete meaning or message conveyed with words. Watching this documentary, I felt the emotional power that can come from physicality without words, and not only did I not need words to feel every scene deeply, I also was at a loss for words in a way that was gain. Finally, to stop editing feelings by pushing them into words or sentence structure, and to just feel completely.
Pina’s works often express loneliness, our need for each other, our dependencies on each other, positive or negative patterns we establish in our lives, and explore gender relationships.
And sometimes, it’s just expressing love…like in the clip I’m blogging about today. It’s only a minute and a half but I’m going to break it down in an attempt to better understand how another art form expresses without words in the hopes that it will help me express better without words.
This is the Intersection Love Duet from Pina- I would recommend watching first, and then reading. (Or just watching.)
The scene opens on a woman sitting in the grass. She turns on the radio in front of her and settles in. Her body language to me is resolute…the way in which she is turned away from us seems purposeful and meant to exclude. She seems like she will be patiently waiting a long time. Just then a man walks up to her and picks up her left hand and puts it to the the area between his nose and his mouth. Using this area, he spins her around and we see her for the first time full-on. Though her body is largely unresponsive besides being permissive to his actions, we see that her face is full of emotion. There is so much about this simple sequence of gestures that is moving to me- this is love. The submission on her part, allowing him to touch and move her. The stoop in his back he has to adopt to put her wrist between his nose and mouth suggest his submission in approaching and moving her. He also puts such an intimate place of hers in such an intimate place of his, there is no room in my mind for any interpretation of power or manipulation, only the equal footing of two individuals. The act of his revealing her to us or us to her…can speak to any number of things about how love opens us up to the world around us, liberates us not only from our physically being alone (for there he is! and here, we, the audience are!) but gives us an outlet to stop being immobile, to stop patiently waiting and to start being moved by the emotions of (and in our society, behind) our faces.
We see his face as he turns her, catching a glimpse of him with his eyes closed, face relaxed, trusting her. And we see her with her eyes wide open, perplexed, as if just awakened. As if he closed his eyes in a transference so she could see. He completes one full spin of her and he rolls his head, looking away from her and you think maybe he is detaching but it is just to facilitate his arm reach to pick her up from her seated position. As he picks her up, she unfurls, stiffly at first, but at the last second when her back is still arched, she makes her first independent movement. She then turns herself around, as does he, gazing at the world around them. And we too, really notice the world around them as the cinematography pans out (the intersection busy with buses, rails, and cars)…as if just seeing an act of love is a participation in a greater worldview.
He comes to rest his head above hers. While he is taller and it could seem like this is an act of power over her, the way he fully forms his head to fit with hers sets them again on an equal footing. In this video, it always seems to be their equal submissions to one another that keeps them individual. I never thought about how you have to keep making choices as an individual to submit to another.
He lowers his head, which is a gesture of sadness or need to my interpretation, and he does so by sinking his head weight onto hers. She sinks too, under head weight, affected by his heaviness, physical or emotional. But she pushes him (them) up, and together they circle their heads around each other, revelling in individual togetherness.
He puts the same intimate area between the nose and the mouth on another intimate place, her neck, and she reciprocates fully, wrapping both hands and arms around his neck. She rolls her arms around his neck luxuriously and slowly folds to his side.
After this full commitment from her, he sweeps her off her feet (literally) and you see their bodies clenched in this sudden movement, so passionate and different from the gentleness we’ve thus far seen.
As she is clenched at his side, trying not to fall, he seems unable or unwilling to carry her (the physical weight here perhaps being a metaphor for emotional weight) lets her down gently into the grass again and runs off into the street. At the moment of letting go, she tries to hold on to him but is unable. She settles in again. Waiting. Her back to us once more, and even farther than before.
I don’t actually know what this duet is about. It could be a parody on short-lived relationships with mail-order brides for all I know. Who knows where he goes at the end? Another woman? Man? Death? Or why he goes? I can also imagine things interpreted very differently- the lowering of his head and her pushing back, for example, as a way of expressing how couples can nip at each other in challenge and oppression. I’m assuming love because that is what appeals to me right now as a mid-twenties girl. And I love how magical this love manages to be at an intersection, quite literally a point at which people meet. Maybe this is all love is, intersections between two people and sometimes you’re lucky to find a road junction in another person instead of something more temporary.
What is heat, urban grittiness, and traffic in the face of love?
I’m in a phase of life where I don’t think it’s necessarily less magical to know how something works…in fact, it could even be more magical…people we love for instance, are complex, and trying to understand their motivations doesn’t mean they won’t surprise or move you. And how magical it is when they break out of your understanding of them! So perhaps, being in this phase of life has led me to be too clinical about this clip. Perhaps, I’ve put too many words on the thing…but I’m not worried because after this documentary, I know how much our bodies and movements can express and reveal beyond our words.
How much our bodies can betray us.