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Flash Film Review, 6-18: Dancing Elders
Ladies & Gentleman Over 65, Meet Pina Bausch

By Lisa Kraus
Copyright 2004 Lisa Kraus

PHILADELPHIA -- A love letter to human personality and how it intensifies with age, "Damen und Herren ab 65" (Ladies and Gentlemen Over 65) is that special work of art that provides a clear window into human nature. Screened this past Saturday in the Motion Pictures dance/film series at the Prince Music Theater, Lilos Mangelsdorf's 2002 film documents the challenges and joys of a cast of 26 older men and women, all non-professionals, learning and performing Pina Bausch's reconstructed 1978 "Kontakthof." What's revelatory is not only the way Bausch's choreography implies so much with so little and how fittingly it sits on these dancers ranging in age from their early 60s to 80s, but also how the act of dancing itself and the process of working together are shown to enhance the lives of the performers and empower them.

In "Kontakthof," Bausch shows men and women in relation to the opposite sex. One man dashes about a stage scattered with still women and grabs them, one after another, drawing them close only to have them push him away. A woman stands, eyes closed, as all the men pass their hands over her tenderly or roughly, mussing her hair, drawing circles on her belly, pinching her nose. Then they trail off after another attractive woman, leaving the first standing alone. Other scenes reveal the coquette, the jokester, or, in several sections of unison walking, a great display of personalities, shapes and styles. Bausch chose people who are healthy, enjoy dancing and had never 'acted,' and is rewarded by a freshness and purity in their delivery. One woman's nervousness is calmed by her husband's "Pina Bausch wasn't looking for beauty queens." She knows she was selected for something she can tell through her presence.

The film alternates scenes of practice with conversation. A diminutive redhead says being accepted at the audition on her birthday was the greatest present she received in all her 71 years. Other performers discuss their squeamishness, their sense of belonging, their understanding of Bausch's message.

We never see Bausch interact with these dancers. Her capable and respectful rehearsal directors skillfully draw clarity and expression from them with careful attention to the exact angle of their forearms or tilts of their heads. Still, Bausch's spirit is everywhere. Though the love 'em and leave 'em theme is echoed in several scenes, the sum effect is one of tenderness.

The film builds toward a performance seen from the audience and backstage. In satin cocktail dresses and suits, the dancers dash for entrances and draw peals of laughter and ecstatic applause from an appreciative audience. Several performers express their pride and astonishment that they could do what "Kontakthof" asks of them physically: lifts, vigorous running, complex patterns to remember. Watching this film, we share their joy with them.

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