Marking the last filmed appearance of the late German dancer-choreographer Pina Bausch, the inspiring “Dancing Dreams” follows a group of Wuppertal teens as they learn Bausch’s 1978 piece “Contact Zone” over the course of a year. Documaker Anne Linsel’s joyful portrait illuminates the participants’ emotional journey as well as the versatility of the choreography — which Bausch’s company also set on a group of seniors in 2000 (documented in Lilo Mangelsdorff’s “Ladies and Gentlemen Over 65”). With the right handling, this well-crafted pic has an outside chance at limited theatrical play in additional territories before moving into broadcast and educational markets.
Much awarded for her innovative work at the Wuppertal Dance Theater in western Germany where she had served as director since 1973, Bausch died in June 2009. At the time, Wim Wenders was in pre-production on a 3D dance film (since halted) about her and her troupe.
Previously, Bausch and Co. were the subjects of many docus, including helmer/arts-and-culture journalist Linsel’s own “Nelken in India” and “Pina Bausch.”
In “Dancing Dreams,” the teen performers (none of whom had prior modern dance experience) range in age from 14 to 18, and come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. It’s heartening to hear them articulate how their participation made them feel more empowered in everyday life — and to see them put aside adolescent inhibitions about the physicality of the choreography.
Likewise, rehearsal directors Jo-Ann Endicott and Benedicte Billiet (shown lovingly and patiently putting the youngsters through their paces) recount how touched they are by the progressive development of the teens vis-a-vis the challenging piece and their commitment to it.
With her penetrating gaze and incisive critiques, Bausch inspires the awestruck youths to greater concentration and finesse. Talking to the helmer, she discusses how dancers of different ages bring out different aspects of the piece.
Tech credits are fine, particularly Rainer Hoffmann’s nimble camerawork, which proves a good match for Bausch’s strenuous, emotion-filled choreography.
The pic will dance into German theaters March 18.