Bausch's work, which can seem alternately jagged, expressionistic, chilly, and showy, has been showcased before in the movies, notably in a 1983 documentary by Chantal Akerman ("On Tour With Pina Bausch") and in Pedro Almodóvar's "Talk to Her," which displayed her famous "Café Muller," in which dancers, to the music of Henry Purcell, fling themselves over and around wooden chairs. (This signature dance was one of the relatively rare numbers in which Bausch herself often appeared.)
"Café Muller" makes its appearance in "Pina" along with many other high-profile examples of her artistry, including her choreography for Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring," which premièred in 1975 and has the dancers padding across an earth-covered stage; "Vollmond," with an onstage waterfall soaking the dancers; and "Kontakthof," which was partially filmed before a live audience.
But the locations for the dances in "Pina" often burst the bounds of the stage, utilizing high school gymnasiums, public swimming pools, forests, and, perhaps the weirdest backdrop, an industrial refinery, as a dancer en pointe swirls in ballet slippers.
From my decidedly inexpert vantage point, Bausch's work, which often centers on the ravages of mortality, seems more stunning than beautiful, more intellectualized than emotional. The way she displays her dancer's movements is heavy-going, almost punitive, as if the dancers were expressionist puppets made flesh. The puppeteer motif comes through in the many interviews that Wenders has conducted, with the dancers' words dubbed on the soundtrack over their silent faces. They look like members of a secret sect. Multinational, ranging widely in age, the dancers are united by their incense-burning adoration of Bausch, whose sayings are repeated as Scripture: "Go on searching," "Dance for love," and "Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost."