- Dance of Light and Loss
Where’s my fool, ho? I think the world’s asleep.William Shakespeare, King Lear
On a bright and sunny Sunday afternoon in the Ogikubo district of western Tokyo, in the dark basement of Saburo Teshigawara’s dance studio and performance space known as Karas Apparatus, an audience gathered to see the dancer’s newest solo performance, Fool. The uncurtained stage in the small theatre was empty and unlit, the stage itself far larger, perhaps three times larger than that tight space reserved for those attending the event. What lights there were faintly illuminated only the slightly raised rows of cushions upon which the forty of us in the audience took our seats, waiting for the performance to begin.
Moments later, the doors of the theatre were closed and the remaining lights turned off, the room becoming completely dark. Then, suddenly, a burst of bright light came from the back of the stage, like a floodlight from above that shone directly out into the eyes of the audience, a nearly blinding glare that did not so much illuminate the empty stage as assault those of us who were trying to see it, anticipating the dancer’s arrival.
Saburo Teshigawara has been creating dance and performance events for more than thirty years with his company Karas (which he formed in 1985, with Kei Miyata), giving performances often in Europe but less frequently in the U.S. Recognized as one of Japan’s finest and most adventurous dancers and choreographers, he has built a formally and conceptually ambitious body of work, one that fits effectively on stages as varied as the grand and ornate Opéra de Paris, or as intimate and austere as his own small space in Tokyo. [End Page 56]
Having begun his career as a painter and performance artist, as well as a circus performer touring all around Japan in his twenties, Teshigawara’s work often defies expectation and clear categorization, developing alongside the dance of Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, and after the more native developments of Japanese Butoh. It emerged in part from his own earlier engagements in performance and body art (e.g., a piece in 1985 where he was buried up to his neck for eight hours in a mound of soil out in the Japanese countryside, à laWinnie in Beckett’s Happy Days), as well his own interest in the Japanese noise music scene of that period, known as Onkyo. Teshigawara’s early work would continue to inform his later productions, blurring the boundaries between dance, theatre, and performance.
In Teshigawara’s dance, however, there has always been a distinct focus upon bodies in time, bodies in motion, bodies coming into view and vanishing within the illuminated spaces shaped upon his stage. Indeed, his applications of light, which at times bring to mind the work of Robert Wilson, James Turrell, and Ann Hamilton, very often appear almost sculpturally carved upon the stage, as if physically forming a space within which the dancer is then contained or confined, but beyond which little can be seen, where appearance itself disappears.
Such compelling spatial effects of light and darkness were present in Teshigawara’s most recent piece, Fool. Following those opening moments of blinding light, the theatre then abruptly went dark, all lights switched off. Moments later, Teshigawara appeared to the side of the stage, a light now cast brightly upon him, one that formed the shape of a door or a small room in which the dancer stood. Leaning there against the wall of the stage, he was dressed, more like a theatrical character than a dancer, wearing an old-fashioned black jacket and pants (of the kind seen in the silent films of Lon Chaney and Buster Keaton) and a layer of white makeup that created a pallid, haunted air about him. Suddenly observed by the audience, Teshigawara remained silent (as he would throughout this one-hour performance), unnervingly in place, with his body barely moving. Instead, he awkwardly...