These adolescents are not ambitious fledgling performers. Most of them have never danced before. They are a diverse lot; some come from immigrant families; one boy is a gypsy. They have problems of their own, and some have dark family histories. It’s deeply touching to see two memorable former members of Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal—Josephine Ann Endicott and Benedicte Billiet—coax and urge and press them into an ensemble. When the young people talk to the camera or speak up in rehearsal, they aren’t shy. But they’re nervous about their bodies and about showing extreme emotion. They sometimes say they can’t do it— can’t walk toward the audience with fierce, love-me stares; can’t run, screaming with laughter around and around the room; can’t disrobe, even partially. One girl featured prominently, the slender blond Joy, explains to the filmmaker that what’s asked of her is very difficult; she has never felt a boy’s hands on her body. And Kontakthof depicts a place where men come to meet women (and vice versa)!

The kids are gawky and shy and sometimes difficult. The camera often catches Endicott and Billiet conferring in undertones and figuratively wringing their hands. But they’re remarkably patient and loving. To help the talented girl who has to do the wild laughter, Endicott encouragingly runs hand in hand with her, howling too, even though she holds her evidently back all the while and is out of breath at the end. You watch these young people grow stronger and braver and more committed as rehearsals progress (every Saturday for months), until Bausch herself—frail and gentle—comes to give some final polish and choose the first cast. It’s like watching a rite of passage that culminates in the warm applause of an audience that includes their families and friends, and the performers emerge from it subtly, ineffably changed.

The young cast in Pina Bausch’s Kontakthof
Ursula Kaufmann
The young cast in Pina Bausch’s Kontakthof

Dancing Dreams can be purchased at firstrunfeatures.com. A New Dance for America is available at dancehorizons.com. At this point, neither Bödälä nor The Last Dancer in Armenia has an American distributor, but the latter can be found on Facebook, accessed through video.pbs.org/video/1607145692.

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