Saburo Teshigawara

Breath of Light
- Saburo Teshigawara/Karas in "Luminous"

by Donald Hutera

September 2003


As choreographer, dancer and designer of the productions of KARAS, the company he and Kei Miyata formed in 1985, Saburo Teshigawara has earned both international recognition and cult status in his native Japan. Trained in classical ballet as well as the plastic arts, he moves as if he wished to ditch his ingrained academic refinement. The tension inside him – formality versus abandonment – is startling to watch. Liquid yet cutting, the compact, shaven-headed dancer slips between sculptural stillness and whirlwind speed with mesmerising skill.

Teshigawara performs in Luminous, a visually daring show built round the sometimes enigmatic interactions of light, sound and motion. The two-part production occupies a transformative, black and white world disturbed by opacity or reflection. Large squares of glass hang close to the floor, while lower rows of screens are used for disconcerting silhouettes or lit for skewed perspectival effects. Light is used masterfully throughout to stake out or limit space or sever the bodies within it. Two of the six women in the piece whip through an eccentric unison hand jive.

Several bound up from the shadows into bright beams of light. Tiny, long-haired Mei Kawamura –a cross between witch, doll and child – swiftly rotates her arms, while the stretched undulations of long, lean Rihoko Sato suggests that she moves in her own current.




Image by Dominik Mantzos







Actor Evroy Deer intones text, including a bit from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Other fragments –whether parables, poetic obscurities or thoughts on light and darkness shouted like abuse – are unidentified, as are the sources of the shimmering, alarming soundtrack.

The strangest, giddiest passage of Luminous features phosphorescent lighting. Dancers in white clothing appear to be minus heads or hands. A pair of trousers capers by itself. A nun-like figure is suspended mid-air. A giant canvas rises, bearing the Hiroshima-like imprint of a fallen body. Two huge walls shift into a book-like wedge. Everything emanates an eerie green glow.

The most unforgettable part of Luminous is the performances of Teshigawara and Stuart Jackson. The latter, a young man blind at birth who makes a cameo appearance in the show’s first half, comes into his own in the second act. The contrast between them – one highly trained, the other an unaffected natural obviously free of the vanity engendered by watching your own movements in a mirror – is exhilarating. Teshigawara, in white on a bare stage, indulges in a long, beautiful solo to a Mozart clarinet quintet. This is dance as idiosyncratic prayer. The black-clad Jackson joins him, arms reaching to heaven or streaming behind him as he spins like a top. The men follow overlapping circular flight paths, achieving a shared ecstasy that burns itself on the viewer’s retina. Teshigawara deeply admires the purity of Jackson’s performance. ‘He gets something from me, but also he teaches me so much. He has a fantastic sense of co-ordination. He naturally flies.When he bends to the side he doesn’t stop rolling. He has a great ambition to go forward, to have more technique of dance. It is a natural desire. He has no consciousness to stop. His special sense of balance and music I tried once, but I couldn’t do it. He doesn’t think of speed. He feels the movement in the air of a room.’

‘Stuart is the same as we are,’ Teshigawara continues. ‘I can say that he has a handicap. But I could also say that I have a handicap.We have many hidden handicaps in our bodies or hearts. He hasn’t my visual measurement.’ So how does Jackson measure space? ‘By breathing,’ Teshigawara says, adding, ‘Oxygen gives many energies – to the brain and of course other parts of the body. It is very important artistically and medically.’


This article first appeared in the Spring 2003 edition of Dance Umbrella News

Donald Hutera writes regularly on dance, theatre and the arts for
The Times, Time Out, Dance Europe, Dance Now and Dance Theatre Journal.
He is co-author, with Allen Robertson, of The Dance Handbook.

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