Saburo Teshigawara

Saburo Teshigawara

The mentor

Published in 2005

Renowned as Japan’s most influential choreographer and one of the greats of contemporary dance, Saburo Teshigawara is celebrated worldwide for his extraordinary dance techniques and innovative works.

Choreographer, dancer, stage designer and film-maker, Teshigawara combines his sculptural sensibilities and command of space with decisive dance movements to craft all his creations. Teshigawara, 52, has been preoccupied with movement his entire life. As a child, he would mimic the movements of insects, clouds, animals and people. And as a teenager, he was obsessed with soccer – with its often rapid and repetitive motion.

First steps
After studying painting and plastic arts, he felt the need to express himself more by using his own body and began studying classical ballet at the age of 20. In the early 1980s, Teshigawara started creating his own dance style, which helped change the image of dance in Japan and also boosted his career. In 1985, he and associate Kei Miyata co-founded KARAS dance company with the aim of searching for a “new form of beauty”.

Breaking down walls
The company sought to flout traditional dance categories – classical ballet, modern and Butoh (an avant-garde Japanese dance form) – and gives the dancers the freedom to make new discoveries and “express the human conditions through the body”.

Teshigawara first attracted international attention at the 1986 Concours de Bagnolet dance competition in France, where he won a silver medal. Since then, he has garnered rave reviews for group works, including Ishi-No-Hana (1989), Dah-Dah-Skoh-Dah-Dah (1991), Noiject (1992), I was Real – Documents (1996) and Luminous (2001), and for spectacular solos such as Bones in Pages (1991), Here to Here (1995), and Absolute Zero (1998).

In the past decade, Teshigawara has been commissioned by his peers and leading ballet companies in Europe to create such works as White Clouds Under the Heels (1994/1995) and Modulation (2000), and most recently AIR for the Paris Opera (2003), which will be recreated in 2006. Teshigawara’s latest pieces are Kazahana, which was premiered in Lille, France, in 2004 and recreated at the New National Theatre in Tokyo in February 2005, and Scream and Whisper, showcased in Rome in March 2005.

Critical acclaim
Sound, time, space and air are all key elements in these cutting-edge creations that have earned Teshigawara such prestigious honours as the Japanese Dance Critics Association Award (1987 and 2000) and the Asahi Performing Arts Award (2002 and 2003)

Keen to disseminate his techniques and nurture young dancers, in 1995, Teshigawara established STEP (Saburo Teshigawara Education Project), an award-winning youth project initiated in London between the London International Festival of theatre (LIFT), The Place and KARAS. These workshops, along with those he holds regularly in Tokyo, involve the participants – most of them non-professionals – in public performances.

Vision and Movement
Teshigawara is interested in what vision-impaired dancers can teach him about sensory perception, space and dance. STEP 2000, with collaborators from London (the Place) and Helsinki’s STOA cultural centre, was a year-long project that involved vision-impaired people in a work called Flower Eyes. In 2004, he created Prelude for Dawn, a piece for local vision – impaired students at the Lille Opera.

Teshigawara continues to captivate audiences in Japan, Europe and North America with abstract works that incorporate his scenography, lighting and costume design. His art exhibitions, films and videos have also received increasing international attention. For Teshigawara, his frequent shifts from one discipline to another are all part of the creative process.