Saburo Teshigawara and Junaid Jemal Sendi

A year of mentoring

Overview (Chapter 1 of 5)

It began with Junaid watching Saburo Teshigawara managing lights and arranging the stage. It ended with him dancing a major role in the Tokyo premiere of Kazahana.

In February 2004, Teshigawara auditioned the four dance finalists for the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, looking for the one most likely to find new paths to travel, the one with the most finely honed coordination, the one least set in his ways – the one, in short, in whom he could see the most “energy for the future”. That was Junaid, whose build – wiry and elastic, but still very slight – belies the hugeness of his dreams.

Saburo Teshigawara and Junaid Jemal Sendi

A year of mentoring

First impressions (Chapter 2 of 5)

An Interview with Junaid Jemal Sendi early in the mentorship

What interested you most about participating in the Rolex Arts Initiative?
The opportunity to be close to and work with someone who has a lot of experience and from whom I can learn a lot.

Have you ever had a mentor before?
I’ve never had an individual mentor before, as there were 16 of us in the Adugna Community Dance Theatre Company, where I was trained. The founder of the group is British choreographer Royston Maldoom, who brought the idea to Ethiopia and made all of us dancers. He made a big difference to our lives. A well-known choreographer from Senegal, Germaine Acogny, also helped me a lot. She built up my confidence and showed me that I could achieve something. She is still a great encouragement to me, especially in showing me how to be a choreographer.

What do you hope to get out of the collaboration with your mentor?
The main thing I would like to achieve is to be able to choreograph a solo piece, either for myself or for another dancer. I would also like to learn how to do the lighting, the stage setting, everything that fits with choreography. In our first month together, I’ve already learned a lot. I’m sure that during the year I will learn even more. I hope to learn better how to make my choreography as clear as possible. In Ethiopia, there is only one dance company, and people often ask: “What is the dance about?” I want dance to make a difference to Ethiopia, even a small difference, which may be big in its effect. I would like to share what I will have learnt with the other members of Adugna and create new choreographic works to inspire and educate everyone who sees my work. This will be the cherry on the top!

So far, what is the best part of being a Rolex protégé?
To be a protégé is really good for a young artist as someone with so much experience gives you opportunities that you would not otherwise have. When you are with one person you learn so much more than when you are one in a troupe of 16. More practically, I found particularly interesting to work with children who are sight-impaired, practise improvisation a lot and filming.

What was your interview with the mentor like during the selection process?
I immediately felt a connection with Saburo Teshigawara. He and I talked very precisely about dance, and we understood each other. He likes natural things and he wants me to be myself. I do what I can and I speak truthfully, and he likes that. Before I met him, I had read a lot about him on the Internet, and I thought that working with this man would be wonderful. I thought that if I was chosen as his protégé, he would help me do everything. I knew he would be important for me. I will never forget the day I met him. Even when the other candidates were improvising with Teshigawara, ideas kept coming from him as he kept changing the music. When I got the telephone call and found out that I was to be the protégé, I started to shout, and I couldn’t stop talking.

How do you think your work is similar to or different from your mentor’s?
We have similar ideas about what happens on the stage, including lighting and other aspects. He has done a lot of solo work, and that’s new for me, but that’s what I want to do. He has had a lot of experience, and I’m still at the start of my international career.

Do you think that Saburo Teshigawara’s guidance will change your approach to dance?
Yes, I do think so because Saburo is pushing me into the way I would like to be. He is also encouraging me very much by showing me that I have the capacity to do more to be where I want to be.

Saburo Teshigawara and Junaid Jemal Sendi

A year of mentoring

A clear plan (Chapter 3 of 5)

Mentorship in three stages
From the beginning of their mentoring year, Saburo Teshigawara had a clear plan in mind. In the first stage, Junaid would observe and assist. Next, he would be integrated into Teshigawara’s ensemble, learning and performing parts in existing pieces. Finally, through a process of intense improvisation, they would develop new choreography for Junaid to dance.

The adventure begins in Lille, France
In May 2004, Junaid joined Teshigawara for their initial phase, that of observation and assistance, onPrelude for Dawn. Outdoors the city was baking under a fierce sun; inside it might as well have been midnight. Instead of the thoroughbred artist-athletes Teshigawara customarily puts through their paces, the dancers were a score of French schoolchildren, all visually impaired or blind. The steps and gestures he had given them were elementary, but the architecture he built over the span of 40 packed minutes was anything but. The simple acts of walking, turning, running or raising an arm – introduced by a single child, then repeated and varied by the group – assumed a genuine majesty.

Observer and assistant
Junaid’s role at this juncture is partly that of observer, partly that of assistant: a man unseen. Off in the wings, he is keeping watch to see that the fledgling dancers catch their cues and hit their marks. Sometimes, under cover of a blackout, Junaid assists by walking them to their places. And once in a while, as the lights come back up, his slight silhouette is caught stealing back into the shadows like a furtive ghost.

Witness to the creative process
Teshigawara’s singular form of dance theatre strikes many viewers as deeply mysterious, and it is mysterious to Junaid, which shows that he is paying attention. To initiate Junaid into his perplexities, Teshigawara assigned him the role of witness to the creation of a second new piece calledKazahana, this one for a dozen professional dancers of awesome proficiency. According to Teshigawara’s programme notes, the title denotes the phenomenon of snow fluttering to earth from a clear blue sky.

Saburo Teshigawara and Junaid Jemal Sendi

A year of mentoring

Dance (Chapter 4 of 5)

Time to move
Although Teshigawara has directed a troupe of his own in his time, he prefers to travel lighter now. Other than three full-time associates, theKazahanadancers were drawn from a loose network – some freelancers, some members of stable companies – who share his desire to expand the horizons of their discipline. Upon arrival in Lille, Junaid was immediately integrated into that network, taking part in morning classes and improvisations.

‘Breathe’
There Junaid was often struck by the simplicity of Teshigawara’s directions. “He’ll say: ‘Breathe’ or ‘Melt’. Slowly he adds things, and the movement grows, until at the end, it’s big, with a very deep feeling. He examines the different ways the dancers move, and really uses the different ways they move when they dance together. He uses dancers very wisely.”

Watching through a viewfinder
“To observe is preparation for dancing,” Teshigawara said. No doubt to sharpen Junaid’s eye, he initially put the young dancer to work with a video camera – an indispensable tool in these surroundings, both for its documentary uses and as a creative instrument in its own right. “It’s hard not to dance when others are dancing,” Junaid said, “but I’m here to learn about choreography, and I have to be patient.”

Finally performing
The initial phase of observation was soon to end, and Junaid’s patience (or impatience?) rewarded. For July, Teshigawara invited Junaid to Civitanova, on the Adriatic coast of Italy, to dance inGreen, a beatific vision conjured up amid live goats and rabbits. Of course, continuing observation was on Junaid’s programme, too, notably of the final half-hour solo (to Mozart) for Teshigawara himself, a dancer whose intellectual rigour meshes seamlessly with the unguarded spontaneity of a child.

Highlights of the year
Beyond Italy, the master plan called for Junaid to join Teshigawara in Japan for advanced study. Mentor and protégé went to work each day in a converted bank where Teshigawara developed a fresh segment for Junaid to introduce in the Tokyo premiere ofKazahanain February 2005. In the chronicle of Junaid’s year with Teshigawara, this Japanese debut in a major role (with subsequent reprise in Hong Kong) stands out as a high point.

Inner visions
But while in Japan, Junaid also reached a more private pinnacle. Teshigawara had chosen the tight inner strongroom that once served as the bank’s walk-in safe as the location forPerspective Study, vol. 1, a video that investigates how the eye constructs what it sees. Junaid and Rihoko Sato – Teshigawara’s choreographic assistant – are the only figures on-screen. The sequence that lingers most indelibly shows Junaid positioned in profile, torso pulsing, wrists angled, hands flung high and forward, striking like a cobra.

Extracted from a chapter, written by Matthew Gurewitsch forUnique Voices, Common Visions,a record of the 2004/2005 cycle of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative

Saburo Teshigawara and Junaid Jemal Sendi

A year of mentoring

After a year with a master (Chapter 5 of 5)

Junaid Jemal Sendi talks about his year as a Rolex protégé

What was your most important artistic achievement before you began participating in the programme?
My first artistic achievement was choreographing the pieceYemot Guzofor Sanga 3, a dance competition in Madagascar in 2003. Of 71 works entered on video, it was ranked at the top, and our company, Adugna, was invited to perform in Madagascar. That was our first piece that got extensive coverage in the media, throughout Ethiopia and also abroad.

How did the mentoring year progress?
At first, I just watched as Saburo Teshigawara managed lights and arranged the stage. Then when he was creating choreography, I made videos. Next he invited me to Italy to do a small part in a piece. At the end, in Japan, I was doing a big part in another piece. Now Saburo wants me to continue in his company and perform with them in Europe. So it grew from just watching and doing nothing to doing something and then to being a real member of the group.

What was the best part of being a Rolex protégé?
It’s great that Rolex makes this investment in a young artist to work and explore. A young person has time to do a lot in his long life. He can learn a lot, and it’s not too late to teach others.

Is there one incident that sums up your relationship with your mentor?
The first day I worked with him, I asked: “How do you make choreography to dance yourself?” And Saburo answered: “Talk to the air! You can fight or struggle with the air. Talk to the wall! The wall can be your partner. With images like this, talking with air and the wall, or swimming through space like water … you can create something new. It’s like working with another person.”

What was the single most important lesson or piece of advice your mentor gave you?
The process was really comfortable. He didn’t really pull me into the group right away and ask me to do things. He taught me things slowly. He gave me time to observe and see everything. Now, whenever I teach or if I become someone’s mentor, that is how I want to work.

Did you learn from your mentor any lessons beyond the practice of your art?
Saburo doesn’t concentrate only on dance. He also is involved in art projects, videos, posters, photography. Sometimes if he sees you in a position that would be really good in a magazine, he says: “Do it again,” and he takes a photograph. He thinks beyond dance. Anything that is art can be in touch with dance.

Can you describe in two or three sentences the most beneficial aspects, for you, of the mentoring year?
The most useful thing was working one-on-one. I’ve never had that chance before, even with dance directors who spent a lot of time at Adugna. They would always have to spend their time with all of us – 16 or 18 dancers. Working one-on-one you learn a lot. You can ask your mentor questions any time you want, because he’s right there. That made me very happy. I couldn’t have gotten this chance in Africa – or in New York either! Artists rarely get such a chance anywhere in the world. I feel really lucky.

Now that the mentoring year has ended, which direction will your artistic career take?
I want to continue working with Saburo’s company to experiment and explore the technique he taught me. I want to continue to perform with his company and learn more. And I want to make his technique mine: to take what I have learned from him and other teachers … and find my own way. I hope something really good will come out.

Is there any other comment you would like to add?
Yes. In Africa, we have many social issues, and the people who have money are not using it to support the arts. Rolex is doing amazing work supporting young artists throughout the world. It’s hard for me to say this, because it’s something I feel very deeply. But the only people who can teach people about what life is about are artists. Artists can do a lot in this world. I really want to thank Rolex for the great job they’re doing. If I get the chance in the future, I want to do what Rolex is doing: helping young artists do their big job in the world.