Last weekend I went to see Wim Wenders’ film Pina, about the work of the pioneering German dancer and choreographer, Pina Bausch, and her company. It was an extraordinary two hours, not least because Pina herself died three weeks after filming began, but rather than abandoning the project, at the insistence of the company Wenders turned the film into a tribute to her. Inter-spersing the dance footage, each member of the company in turn speaks a few words to camera about what she meant to him or her. It must have been a profoundly emotional experience for them all.
Apart from these short spoken pieces the film was all dance and music. It was a feast of colour, movement and rhythm, some of it filmed during theatrical performances, some in ‘natural’ settings ranging from a river-bank to a steelworks, the rim of an open-cast mine to a busy motorway intersection. There were moments of humour and surprise, menace and tenderness, violence and joy. And underlying it all was a growing sense of the depth of Pina’s influence on her dancers – who came, it seemed, from almost every country under the sun.
I’m used to being transported by words, music and images, but less so by bodily movement and I was unprepared for how touched and inspired I felt by this film; not merely by the unseen but towering presence of Pina Bausch herself and the affection in which she was clearly held by her dancers, but by the beauty and grace of those lean, steel-muscled bodies, by their power to silently evoke all the emotional and psychological subtleties of what it is to be human.
Funnily enough, though, rather than making me want to dance, I left the cinema with a very strong craving for stillness. Those dancers, I felt, were able to move their bodies as they did, in some cases almost like acrobats, because they knew how to be still at their core, to create some point of inner calm and balance from which their control, and therefore the power of their movement and emotional expressiveness, flowed. That stillness was there in their faces even as they talked about Pina.
Life as I get older is not as I’d imagined it. It’s not slower and calmer, but faster and increasingly frantic. There is so much I want to do and never quite enough time to do it all. I’m sure I would do more still, and all of it better, if I could find that stillness. But it doesn’t come merely from the absence of activity; it’s the presence of something single-minded and disciplined, hard-won through years of practice. Yoga and meditation are paths to it. Perhaps we reach a version of it when we’re utterly absorbed in something, living only in the moment. But the trick must be in being able to put ourselves there at will, rather than waiting for the moment to strike.
I imagine it as a kind of gathering-in, of bringing all of oneself to a single point – which is just how Pina’s dancers were, the totality of their beings focused on each successive movement. Swap dancing for any other activity you care to name and the goal starts to become obvious, even if the means of reaching it are less so. But I love the paradox that these thoughts of stillness were triggered by a film about movement.