In "Pina", nothing ever goes wrong. Dancers dance on a wet floor, on a precipice, in the road, and in a room full of chairs. None slip (without being choreographed to do so), fall (likewise), run into chairs, or get hit by cars. In these dances, the possibility of an accident is constantly thrown in my eyes like sublime sand.

There is a theme of women falling over to be caught by men. The gravitational potential of her body shoots invisibly through his anticipatory movements. He follows her like a grave, loving spotter, and when she falls forward, he catches her at the last moment before her nose hits the concrete. The audience doesn't quite know what to do with this. It's almost slapstick, but deadpan, modernist. Laughter flares uncertainly through the theater in short fits. Her face is never allowed to make contact with the ground. He saves her from it, but what kind of salvation is that?

A similar dance features a woman not falling face-first, but tipping to the side like a ship in a storm. As before, there is a man to keep her from going over. He keeps close and watches her intently, moving quickly to the perilous side when necessary and kneeling to catch her. She walks and looks forward, zombie-like. When at unpredictable intervals she falls to the side, her eyes do not move. He must keep her on track, keep her from haplessly deviating.

Each dancer in the troupe gives a short monologue. One of them explains lovingly how much Pina loved obstacles. In one of her productions, "Cafe Mueller", the floor is filled with chairs. There is, of course, a man whose role is to move chairs out of the way of dancers who, seeming not to notice the chairs underfoot, would otherwise trip. His work is frantic as the other dancers move wildly about the cluttered space. He makes no false move. He deprives them of clumsiness, their one avenue of expression. While moving chairs is anything but quiet, and the movements of the dancers are anything but understated, nonetheless a tense, kinetic hush settles over them.

There is one dance in which a dancer falls, so predetermined it stings with the caustic amusement of a pompous psychoanalyst. It made the audience so uncomfortable that they laughed sincerely. A man and a woman embrace firmly, both looking needy but on the brink of satiation. They don't move, but a man with the suit, hairstyle, and manner of Agent Smith comes over to them. He rearranges them into a flipbook of passion--their hands to each other's hips, their lips onto each other's, and then he lays her whole into the still man's outstretched arms, as if supposed to carry her to bed in a cliche. As soon as the stern arranger of limbs lets go, she slips out of the arms, and falls to the floor. It looks like it hurts. She picks herself up and again the two embrace, seeming to be rescuing each other from the trauma that just occurred. Sternness turns to anger in the superegoical overseer, and he repeats the whole thing over again, faster. It repeats over and over. Their breathing becomes loud and rapid. It ends with the two embraced. The angle of the camera reveals a bloody spot on her ankle.

The accident is routed back into itself. To my rapt frustration, nothing ever happens. I have never been more convinced that beauty and terror are the same thing.

7 March 2012