Dance Dance Revolution

Generally, when things are reviewed, they're taken on their own merit. They may be held up against past works in the same genre, but the majority of the focus and any conclusions drawn are about the individual property. There is one case where the response changes, though, and that's when two works in the same genre are consumed back-to-back. The two pull on each other in a way that can't easily be separated. Something that would have been considered perfectly fine suddenly pales in comparison to someone who did it better, even if the two properties had vastly different intentions. Rare is the discussion of Shakespeare in Love that doesn't also bring up Elizabeth, and vice versa.

This happened to me recently when I watched the German documentary Pina and the feature-length dance music video Girl Walk//All Day within a day of each other. Both are all about the art of dance, and while they barely intersect in any aspect other than the fact that they feature people dancing, I couldn't help but view each of them through the lens of the other.

Pina is a 2011 film about choreographer Pina Bausch directed by Wim Wenders. What was probably supposed to be a movie in which Bausch shared her thoughts on the process of creating contemporary dance and her sources of inspiration had to drastically change when she died of cancer in 2009. Instead, it became a setpiece exhibition of Bausch's works, featuring interstitial interviews with the dancers. These are people that had worked with her for decades, and the interviews are mostly them sharing their memories about her. That's actually one of the more interesting facets of the film. Not the gushing interviews - those are pretty standard - but the use of dancers well into their forties and fifties. We're so used to thinking of dance as an extremely short career, and it's telling to see that that shouldn't necessarily be the case; more seasoned dancers bring something new and fascinating to the pieces they perform. Now, I'm on record as not being the biggest fan of modern art, and that includes dance. That's simply a taste issue, and while some of the dances in Pina did set off my Annoying Modern Art Alarm, an equal number of them legitimately wowed me. And while the interviews leaned towards being overly flowery and employed far too much purple prose, it's also nice to see what a tight-knit company Bausch was able to build, and how much the dancers she worked with treasure their time with her. When the movie was over, I didn't feel like I'd learned much about the woman, but certainly had a new appreciation for her work.

Girl Walk//All Day first came to my attention when it was recommended by the /Film podcast. It's a 2011 music video, spread out to feature-length over the course of several "chapters". As with some other music videos, it doesn't have much of a concrete story, but the overall theme is a girl who ditches her stuffy ballet class so that she can go explore New York City, dancing her way the whole time. Two male dancers ("The Gentleman" and "The Creep") are also dancing their way around the city until the point that everyone meets, and the whole thing is set to the soundtrack of Girl Talk's 2010 album, All Day. All three of the dancers are extremely talented, but unlike the artistry striven for by Bausch's pieces, Girl Walk//All Day comes off as a lot more "Check out these sweet moves, yo!" That's a completely valid goal to have, but struck me as a bit cheap and disappointing after the spectacle of Pina. If it's to be viewed as a music video, Girl Walk//All Day is pretty entertaining, if far too long. If it's to be viewed as a short film, it falls flat.

Both Pina and Girl Walk//All Day heavily rely on the environment around the dancers. In the case of Pina, it can be the use of a pool of water or a chair-strewn cafe to accentuate the dance, while Girl Walk//All Day captures some frenetic energy by having the dancers vault off fountains or park benches and by including bystanders game enough to join in. It's entirely possible that without having seen Pina, I would have found Girl Walk//All Day to be a load of fun. It's entirely possible that without having seen Girl Walk//All Day, I would have found Pina to be a bit pretentious. But when taken together, one shines as an expression of artistic intent, and one comes off as a really long So You Think You Can Dance audition.

Pina: B+
Girl Walk//All Day: C+


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