After the era of Butoh, there are many experimental dance companies established in Japan. “Study of Live works Baneto (Study of Live works 発条ト)”, “Kim Itoh + the Glorious Future (伊藤キム＋輝く未来)”, “Batik”, “Nibroll (ニブロール)”, “Shintai Hyogen Circle (身体表現サークル, Body Art Circle)”, “Chelfitsch (チェルフィッチュ)”, “Idevian Crew (イデビアン・クルー)” “Dump Type” and “Leni-Basso” are some examples. Dancers and choreographers such as Tsuyoshi Shirai (白井剛), Ikuyo Kuroda (黒田育世), Natsuko Tezuka (手塚夏子), Un Yamada (山田うん), Shigehiro Ide (井手茂太), Mikuni Yanaihara (矢内原美邦), Toshiki Okada (岡田利規), Mika Arashiki (新鋪美佳), Mari Fukutome (福留麻里), Yutaka Joraku (常樂泰) use mixed-media and multi-elements to create new possibility for modern dance. Some of them were rooted in the Butoh tree. As if Butoh blossoms into a mutation as a black flower in the garden of modern dance, post-Butoh Japanese choreographer grow as different flowers from the Butoh tree. Other choreographers are not from the context of Butoh genealogy. They develop their brand new vocabularies.
Among the new generations, well-known Japanese contemporary choreographer Saburo Teshigawara（勅使川原三郎） is also a noted dancer and visual artist of great talent. He is no doubt one of dance masters in the world because he develops his original aesthetics for the art of dance. Teshigawara and his dance company “KARAS” were invited to Taiwan for 3 times to perform his dance pieces Absolute Zero（1998，絕對零度） in 2001, Luminous（2001，電光石火）in 2003, and Bones in Pages（new version 2003，人體書頁）in 2007. I went for all of these performances as well as his symposiums before/after performances and I was extremely shocked. Invisible energy and “Chi” （氣）hanged in the air even the stage was as empty as what it was in Absolute Zero. Based on his faith "the freedom of dance is the freedom of the dancer", Teshigawara creates new language of dance beyond classical ballet, modern dance, Butoh, and post-modern dance. As a unique artist who is almost a philosopher, Saburo Teshigawara touches my heart.
Saburo Teshigawara never admitted and never denied his relationship with Butoh（舞踏）. However, his strangeness was shown in his philosophic thought and “dangerous body”, the concept might has something to do with the former of Butoh ―― Tatsumi Hijikata（土方巽）regarded body as a ash stick which topples in a flash.
I attempt to describe, interpret and analyze Teshigawara’s Absolute Zero, Luminous, and Bones in Pages in order to realize his choreographic philosophy in dance.
Background of Saburo Teshigawara and KARAS
Saburo Teshigawara took his basic training in plastic arts and classic ballet in his hometown Tokyo. In 1981, he began his career as an artist. In 1985, he formed “KARAS” with a female dancer Kei Miyata（宮田佳） and started group choreography and their own activities. “KARAS” means “the crow” in Japanese. In Taiwan and many countries, the crow popularly is regarded as a bird of ill omen. On the contrary, the crow is the symbol of luckiness in Japan.
In addition to solo performances and his work with KARAS, Teshigawara has also been invited to choreograph for other dance companies. In 1994/95 he choreographed for the Ballet Frankfurt at the invitation of William Forsythe, Le Sacre du Printemps for the Bayern National Ballet in 1999, Netherland Dance Theater I in 2000. In 2003, Teshigawara was invited to choreograph a new piece AIR for the Paris Opera. Besides, Teshigawara often created installation, designed lighting and costume or edited music for his work.
Kei Miyata is the artistic co-director, as well as the managing director of KARAS which is based in Japan and the United Kingdom. She majored in English and American dramatic literature at St. Margaret’s College in Tokyo. She collaborated on all of Teshigawara’s projects and selected the sound and music for his works. Rihoko Sato（佐東利穗子）is the choreographic assistant of KARAS who learned gymnastics in England and the United States since her childhood. After participating in KARAS’ workshop in 1995, Sato joined the group in 1996. Members of KARAS share their stylized creation and concept about body, space and movement.
Workshops held at the KARAS Studio in Tokyo. Besides, a joint educational project called "S.T.E.P." （Saburo Teshigawara Education Project）has been initiated since 1995 with partners in the UK. Since 2006, Teshigawara has begun a professorship at St. Paul’s University（Rikkyo University立教大學） in Japan, where he teaches movement theory and leads workshops.
Absolute Zero (1998)
On the stage which was almost bare, Teshigawara and Miyata danced their duet Absolute Zero. Picture of flowers or portrait of a western young lady in the style of classicalism appeared in screen once in a while. Light and music were soft and tender. Mysterious aura brought the condition of total stillness. Teshigawara’s movement was almost fluent flow passing through his poetic body. Oriental “Zen” and “Chi” vaguely emerged out of air. Each element was exactly pure.
In most of sections, Teshigawara danced his solo. It seemed like meditation when Teshigawara stood as a liquefied sculpture. But sudden energy and amazing speed broke out the stillness. Sometimes he swirled round and round dizzily with his arms moving up and down quickly. In a flash, he melted with air. In some sections, Teshigawara and Miyata danced duet without touching each other. They kept their distance and taking possession of individual movement. Miyata’s motion is simple. Sometimes she just rose her arms by turns making circles slowly. However, amazingly, inner connection between Teshigawara and Miyata showed up gradually. Air and “Chi” of this duo mingled as an elegant coherence. Although air is invisible, I still saw air and “Chi” pervaded in the stage. In the end of the work, music of Mozart inspired everyone to sublimation of soul.
In Teshigawara’s opinion, dance is a way to get alone with the world and to play with the world. Just like air filled with every space, it is invisible but exists everywhere. Teshigawara said, “It took me very long time to have the dialogue and conversation with air. It’s very essential for dancers to perceive many things simultaneously.” Talking about space, he said, “Space is the field with time. A dancer himself/herself is also the space. Dancers not only influenced by space but also dominate space. Space is a variation. It is always altering or changing. It is lived and vivid. Dancers have to take charge of flow of time in the space. Gaze of audience is very important, so is the energy which audience gives dancers.”
In the press conference before Teshigawara’s debut in Taiwan, Mr. LIN Huai-min praised him as a genius choreographer/dancer who eliminated the bounding line between the east and the west, tradition and modern. His body presented organic changes and the changes were almost “fatigue of love”. Teshigawara replied him with excitement, “Yes, this is indeed what I feel. The happiness of dancing is similar to the happiness of falling in love. Dance is the adventure towards love and feelings.” Without risks, nothing will be found in this tour for self seeking.
In 2001, by the end of Teshigawara’s symposium in Taipei, he told audience he was working with a blind boy for exploring other possibility of dance and the lived body. And then, he took Luminous, the blind boy Stuart and partners of KARAS to Taiwan in 2003.
Mixed media guided the main style of his stage. In the first half, Teshigawara in white appeared under dark light. He kept his center of gravity low. Owing to very dim light, his figure showed as silhouette. Young dancers joined the performance to dance around installation ── large squares of glass hang close to the floor at times. And then, Stuart Jackson, a young man who was blind at birth danced his solo in the dark. Without vision, Stuart perceived the space on stage by sound and heat of light fading in. Stuart run and turned faster. Teshigawara and black actor Evroy Deer with his voice reading a poem of Teshigawara entered. Three of them extended their relationship with body, space, light on the stage.
In the beginning of the second half, the stage was exactly dark. Dancers put on tight customs in fluorescence. Therefore, their bodies became the origin of light. Light came out of dancers instead of throwing to them as usual. Evroy deer and his vocal flew with them. Numerous phantoms run and spread hither and thither. Illusion released. Finally, Teshigawara and Stuart shared their duet on the brighter stage with their arms catching air. Stuart was like a flower searching for light. His skin felt heat of stage light. How happy they were because they were dancing in the center of the cosmos. Stuart never saw light but he felt bright. Blind people may dance with ordinary people. Blind people themselves are luminous bodies.
Absolute Zero is a work about communication between body and air. Luminous is about relationship of body and light.
Teshigawara had to hold Stuart’s hand in the very beginning they worked together. Gradually, Stuart felt the breath of himself and others. By this way, he recognized his own body and space he existed. Finally, he may danced alone and circle around rapidly on the stage. This was the process how he got close to his inner aspects.
Bones in Pages(new version 2003)
Bones in Pages was originally a solo piece by Teshigawara which was originally created at TAT（Theater am Turm）, Frankfurt, in 1991. Teshigawara danced in his installation work “Dance of air” in the center front of the stage, which was created with many books, shoes, a live crow, and other various elements. After more than 10 years, this piece was recreated and given life again in 2003. 2 senior dancers, Miyata and Sato joined this piece. In 2007 version performed in Taipei Novel Hall, a crow didn’t appear because Taiwan people usually regard crow as bad fortune. Besides, it was hard to find crows in Taiwan. Any other kind of birds was not proper substitute. Teshigawara said he would like to set himself and a crow in a cage for a joke but finally gave up the idea.
The intention of Bones in Pages began with the concept of mixed media installation. Eight hundreds open books inlayed in left wall and the ground. Three hundreds shoes spread on the other side of the floor. A round desk with a lot of glass inserted and a chair was by the desk. Another set of round desk with two chairs were cut off as left half and right half, then were separated by limpid glass. The flat of the stage was the shape of a trapezoid. The whole installation implied the being which used to live. Books which kept memory and shoes lost their owners were reminders history, the existence and disappearance of time. This installation which Teshigawara named it as “Dance of air” created a small space. He made it smaller on purpose because he wanted to feel much pressure of compression in this space. His body was under control of books and this limited space. Meanwhile, “The feeling of being limited, trapped or oppressed is kind of very important feeling about the existence of body.” Teshigawara said.
In the darkness, Teshigawara sat in fornt of a small round desk full of sharp glass and bend down his head. Little by little, he lifted up his head with mysterious emotional expression and reflection of shattered glass in his face. When he got out of the chair to dance his solo, his body spoke his unique personal language. He danced in different kinds of speed and quality. Sometimes he twitched his feet fast but kept his trunk and arms softly. As the light changed, the soft string music appeared indistinctly, both arms that he launched waved like a bird. Wind blew beneath his wings. Later, Kei Miyata’s solo as another bird performed. And then, Rihoko Sato put on black costume as Saburo Teshigawara but she wore a mask like a phantom. She showed up and danced in-between hundreds shoes and then she picked up several shoes and then she threw the shoes in the direction of audience. Shoes were stopped by a net and every audience including me were very surprise because the net was invisible for no one to perceive before her throw.
Saburo Teshigawara said, “Body is similar to life. There are lots of conflicts in body. So is life. People have to tolerate these conflicts and fight them. The process by which life recovered is the inner aspects of body. I am very interested in the process of a shape turn into the other one. This is the same with the inner aspects of my body. The meaning of books in Bones in Pages is not literary but material. To be a dancer, you have to train your body everyday and keep your brain thinking everyday.”
Saburo Teshigawara is always experimental in dance. For example, in his early experiment in 1987, he used to dig a deep straight hole in the ground and covered up himself in. Only his head appeared outside. He tried to feel his body in the ground. And then, he explored many physical elements such as air, light, speed. Recently, he worked with blind people. Without story-telling and representation, abstract connection among people still exists in his work. Compare with other modern dance pieces such as Portraits of the Families of Cloud Gate or When Nights Were Dark of Eiko and Koma, the way Saburo Teshigawara uses light is material instead of descriptive.
As dance scholar CHEN Ya-pin said, “Saburo Teshigawara’s dance is a thick and dense dialogue among the heterogeneous elements. His body is molded and melts with the refined control at amazing speed, poetic atmosphere lasts in air.” I agree Saburo Teshigawara’s work is abstract poetry. In Japan, dancers of post-Butoh generation try to transcend the hegemony of Butoh. Saburo Teshigawara, the dancer/choreographer creates new Japan image is the first one who does it successfully.