In recent years, a cinematic spotlight has shined on Pina Bausch. The avant-garde dance theater choreographer died suddenly in 2009, just as Wim Wenders began his 3-D film collaboration with her (Pina, released late in 2012), and just after the makers of Dancing Dreams finished shooting. To what can we attribute this sudden celebration of a figure who has been an important choreographer since her 1975 production of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring?" It's almost as if these filmmakers had a sense that time was running out. Certainly, capturing her work on film enables a whole new audience to experience the drama and emotion of her unique approach.
Dancing Dreams documents the process of bringing Bausch's work to forty diverse teenagers in Germany. In doing so, the film not only explores the choreographer's creativity, but puts the experiences of the teenagers at the center, opening up an exploration of the awkwardness, freshness, audacity, and timidity of that age as the group (selected by Bausch) rehearses and ultimately performs Bausch's Kontakthof (Contact Zone). This piece is normally seen as an exploration of adult themes related to male/female relationships - a fact that makes the prospect of teenagers performing it fraught with all sorts of potential problems. Kontakthof also requires dancers to have an awareness of their bodies and an understanding of how they moves that seems far beyond the reach of a typical teenager. Their self-consciousness, and the challenge the work presents for them, are readily apparent in their faces, in their confessions to the camera, and in their hesitating movements, at the beginning of the process. Primarily under the guidance of Josephine Ann Endicott, who danced a major part in the original production of Contact Zone, the boys and girls conquer their self-consciousness, become more [End Page 85] aware of their bodies, and arrive at a deeper understanding of who they are as individuals. It is a remarkable, yet subtle, transformation to witness.
The film begins with rehearsal scenes. The two rehearsal directors, Endicott and Bénédicte Billiet, instruct a group of boys in how to hold a girl during the dance. Then we meet Joy, one of the main subjects of the documentary, a gangly blonde who is to play the key role in the piece: "The Girl in the Pink Dress." Endicott works one-on-one with her, coaching her movements. Joy is unsure. She says, "I don't know if I can do it... To let it all hang out. I don't know." Endicott tells her she must focus and then shares her experience of having done the role herself: "I hardly breathed." The scene introduces us to the nature of Bausch's piece. It is at times a sensual piece and sexuality is at the core of the tension in Contact Zone, making it a provocative piece to ask awkward teenagers to interpret. This beginning scene prepares us for the next 85 minutes or so in which the teenagers work to focus themselves, to take themselves seriously, and to bring their own unique perspectives to the dance.
As the film progresses, we meet each of the key performers and learn a bit about their backgrounds. Two of the kids are survivors of the Bosnian Wars. One has lost her father. There is racial, ethnic, and economic diversity in the group. Stories of hate crimes, lost loves, and other kinds of struggles are revealed as the film progresses - as it becomes more intimate. A lanky boy talks about learning to touch a girl in the dance in a "tender" way that he doesn't use with girls outside of the rehearsals. Another, who refers to himself as a "gypsy," tells us of his immense respect for women and girls and the struggles his single mother faces in raising four boys on her own.
What emerges from this collection of portraits is a picture of teenagers in Wuppertal, Germany and the struggles they share. Adolescence is of course a time of great upheaval, uncertainty, and even...