Dance: Castles in the air

Teshigawara: I Was Real - Documents LIFT, QEH, SBC, London
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The Independent Culture
How does one make people "see" air, which is invisible? That is the problem that Saburo Teshigawara sets himself in I Was Real - Documents, the latest creation for his group Karas. Well, Marcel Marceau found one answer to that in his early mime sketches many years ago, but Teshigawara's solution is altogether more complex. I am not sure that he really does make the air visible; but what he does achieve is, even more than in past work, to make us very consciously aware of space.

Partly it is a matter of the actual movements: often pushing out, pulling in or twisting. Rather more, however, depends on the uneven distribution of bodies about the large QEH stage, sometimes leaving most of it free while the dancers perform only along one edge, and leaving gaps even when they do spread out. The effect is heightened by the way the accompanying sound reverberates through the air, especially in a long sequence when it appears that howls from members of the cast are picked up, amplified, lengthened and echoed to eerie effect.

There is almost nothing here of the physical objects that have dominated Teshigawara's past work, the pile of broken glass, the collection of books and shoes, the heavy, noisy metal walls. The nearest we get to such encumbrances is when three men briefly wheel on metal frames that made me think of a cross between hospital bed and a market stall, and the main point of them seemed to be that they were empty (another indication of space).

So the concern is almost entirely with movement, which brings out Teshigawara's sculptural as well as his choreographic side. Beginning and ending (90 minutes later) in stillness, it progresses through a series of disparate sequences that bring contrasts of shape and colour in the dancers' clothes: black to start and finish, then some white, and reds and yellows in the climactic central part.

Occasionally the movement is almost balletic, parts are eccentric (for instance, the man who repeatedly runs on for twitchy jumps as if jerked on an invisible puppet string); most often it comprises a rhythmic stepping, varied in pace and place to which the performers give a dedicated intensity that helped explain the rapturous ovation from a packed house.

I note with admiration the generosity of Issey Miyake Inc in supporting the London presentation, even though the costume designs are not theirs but by Teshigawara, who is responsible for scenography, the excellent lighting and a share of the music compilation besides the choreography and being one of the dancers - a polymath indeed.