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Director Wim Wenders is bringing his 3D documentary about dancer Pina Bausch, who died in 2009, to San Diego. The film opens in limited release Feb. 10. Courtesy photo
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Documentary examines the world of Pina Bausch

The story behind Wim Wenders’ latest documentary, “PINA,” goes something like this: For nearly 20 years, the celebrated filmmaker had wished to make a movie with revolutionary dance choreographer Pina Bausch.After a series of false starts and setbacks spanning two decades, plans for their collaboration finally materialized in 2009; both agreeing that 3D would be the best medium for their effort. Two days before the first scheduled test shoot, the German director discovered, sadly, that the subject of his upcoming production had suddenly passed away.For others, such an event might have been the death knell of a documentary production. But for Wenders, the unfortunate news presented him with another challenge to overcome.Armed with a new approach, and dancers with whom Bausch had been rehearsing, Wenders chose — instead of presenting Bausch herself — to assemble an impressionistic portrait of the choreographer, from the memories of those individuals who seemed to have known her best.

"PINA" opens in limited release Feb. 10. Courtesy photo

Like reconstructing a leaf from its imprint in wet cement, “PINA” presents a complex, multifaceted view of Bausch, by no means exhaustive and absolute. Showcasing four of her most famous works — “Le Sacre du printemps,” “Kontakthof,” “Café Müller,” and “Vollmond” — the movie also features interviews with some of her closest pupils, disclosing, to the audience, their first impressions of their instructor.

Born in 1940, Bausch was a gifted dancer who studied Tanztheater (“dance theater”) under Kurt Joos, before becoming the dance director of the Wuppertal theater in 1972. She soon became famous for her expressionistic approach to dancing, fusing traditional ballet with dramatic theater, to form a unique style that was a continuation of her early training under Joos.

Bausch’s choreography represents a break with traditional sensibility, allowing dancers to embody a range of emotions normally reserved for theatrical acting. A symbolic mix of dance and gesture, her work draws inspiration from psychology and mythology, including her background in traditional art and design, to create evocative and surreal performances exploring themes like time, space, memory, gender; identity and loss.

Adopting the aesthetic philosophy of its subject, “PINA” is a fragmentary journey into the life of an artist, represented by the works she has left behind.

Using the latest in 3D technology, Wenders attempts to bridge the gap between audience and performer the way his collaborator did with her choreography.

His painstaking research has delivered an unprecedented level of depth that rivals fictional efforts like “Avatar” and “Hugo.”

Director Wim Wenders is bringing his 3D documentary about dancer Pina Bausch, who died in 2009, to San Diego. The film opens in limited release Feb. 10. Courtesy photo

Wenders’ movie is as self-conscious as Bausch’s pieces, eschewing the strictly observational impulse of traditional documentary, and relying on the interplay of subjective and objective moments.

Here, dancers are posed against unconventional backgrounds, including industrial landscapes and busy intersections, where movements are given greater scrutiny in the absence of conventional contexts. None of these choices — including the use of 3D — seem to intrude or detract from the performances.

Wenders pulls off the seemingly impossible by making decisions whose boldness and originality somehow remain secondary to the work of the late choreographer.

Despite the unfortunate loss of its subject, “PINA” remains a triumphant mosaic of a personality who changed the world of dance.