Washington missed the boat with Pina Bausch and her Wuppertal Dance Theatre last year, when this extraordinary avant-garde troupe from West Germany became a sensation at the Olympic Arts Festival in Los Angeles last summer, and then in the Brooklyn Academy of Music's enterprising "Next Wave" Series. Chances are we may miss out again, if, as rumored, Bausch returns to Brooklyn next fall, unless someone like Peter Sellars at the Kennedy Center -- who knows and admires Bausch's work -- moves to remedy the situation.
In the meantime, if all the media attention to Bausch has left you curious, you can at least sample some of her controversial creations Sunday afternoon at the AFI Theater, where "A Primer for Pina: Susan Sontag on Pina Bausch" will be screened at 5 o'clock. It's a 60-minute video essay produced and directed by Jolyon Wimhurst for Great Britain's Channel 4 Television, and it's showing here as part of a survey of offbeat TV from last year's National Video Festival.
The "Primer" is a sort of video profile of Bausch's art, with Sontag as the on-screen narrator and extensive intercutting to Bausch and her company in rehearsal and performance. It was made as an introduction to Wimhurst's much longer (2 1/2-hour) tape of Bausch's "1980," which, unfortunately, won't be shown; many clips from the opus, however, show up in the "Primer."
This isn't your ordinary "talking head" documentary. Wimhurst has structured the piece using a Godardian, collage technique that itself helps prepare the viewer for Bausch's multilayered stagecraft and choreography -- the form of the video is one with its message.
Sontag, the polymath and critic, is an ideal guide to Bausch -- her iridescent mind leaps across centuries, styles and personalities, making insightful connections all the way. She ties Bausch in to Wagner, to the implicit feminism of American modern dance, and to the German Expressionist tradition, among many other things, as pungent stage imagery drives home the points she so lucidly expounds.