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Paul and I recently watched Pina, a documentary about the work of German choreographer Pina Bausch, who died in the summer of 2009.

The music, the settings, the dancers, and their stories about Bausch are stuck in my head.

According to Pina‘s website, filmmaker Wim Wenders

… takes the audience on a sensual, visually stunning journey of discovery into a new dimension: straight onto the stage with the legendary Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch ensemble, he follows the dancers out of the theatre into the city and the surrounding areas of Wuppertal – the place, which for 35 years was the home and centre for Pina Bausch’s creativity.

These works are performed by dancers who are fearless. They give their all, each one pushing him or herself to the edge while maintaining a level of control that only the very skilled have mastered.

For example, in the clip below a dancer flirts with the edge of a cliff throughout his frantic, headlong performance. In another dance, a woman dives off a chair toward the floor through a “hoop” made by her partner’s arms. The move was as nonchalant as a shrug and it took my breath away.

The dancers’ thoughts, which are dispersed throughout the film, reveal a leader who was generous about soliciting participation from others in her vision. Rather than hold her performers to her own closed concept of what a particular dance should be, Bausch had the confidence and the courage to let them fly.

One dancer remembers Bausch telling her “you just have to get crazier.” Another says she told him to “scare me!”  Bausch trusted her dancers, and by doing so she taught them to trust themselves.

Exhibiting mastery of a discipline without being shackled by it, while eloquently expressing the human condition, is something artists strive for. It must have been thrilling to have a leader who asserted her authority by encouraging those in her dance troupe to “let ‘er rip!”