As children, we all wondered what it might be like to be blind. We shut our eyes tight and stumbled about, groping for obstructions, fearing the edge of the kerb. As adults, we don't role-play so freely, but an unanswered curiosity remains. For the dancer-choreographer Saburo Teshigawara, a cult figure in Japan and in France, that curiosity was rekindled by working with vision-impaired people, including some who had been blind from birth. Here the conundrums deepen. Not just, how does it feel to live in perpetual darkness?, but how to express oneself in movement when one has neither spatial awareness, a mental picture of one's own body, nor any visual experience of what dance is? Teshigawara's latest show, Luminous, brought over by Dance Umbrella, was inspired partly by such enquiries, though it's also a showcase for the kind of hi-tech theatrics that his fans have come to expect. It divides neatly into two, and in the first half Teshigawara reminds us of his skill as a sorcerer of light and shadow. The vast monochrome set (his own design) is hung with rows of sheet glass which the merest hint of breeze sets tilting and glinting and shifting reflected patterns on the floor. Ranged down one side are a dozen lightboxes resembling ticket barriers on the Underground, and these are mysteriously deployed for a shadow play of silhouetted images - legs running, hands reaching, a girl raising sushi to her lips.
Teshigawara's six female dancers fight like kickboxing warrior queens whose frantic speed or sudden t'ai chi calms are amplified by the lighting and ambient music. Tricks of "black light" showclothing apparently moving without its owner. A pair of trousers cavorts in the dark. A trenchcoat careers across the stage. Then we get the reverse: white clothing on a white ground, in which hands and heads seem to float unattached. Later, a prone body appears to leave an indelible imprint on a sheet. Technically it's all very clever, but the observations are hardly profound, and the choreography looks tacked on.
Even less illuminating are the scraps of spoken poetry tossed into the mix - Lorca, Shakespeare, and cryptic writings from the director's own hand along the lines of "nobody eats oranges under a full moon", declaimed by the actor Evroy Deer. At this point I gave Teshigawara up as a hollow showman, a deluded Renaissance do-it-all, a sorcerer's apprentice run amok.
But I'm glad I stayed after the interval, for in the second half the dross fell away. In a long, gimmick-free solo, in simple white casuals on an empty stage, 50-year-old Teshigawara revealed his true craft. Soothed by the civilised balm of Mozart's Clarinet Quintet, he offered up a dance so subtly inflected, so meticulously modulated, so tender and sincere, it was almost a kind of prayer. And it set the mood for the entry of Stuart Jackson, a young man who has been profoundly blind since birth and who, Caspar Hauser-like, until recently communicated with the world very little. Jackson cannot know the beauty of Teshigawara's solo. He has no inkling how he himself appears. So the moves he presents as dance we assume to be a direct expression of what he feels: his experience of darkness brought into the light, his discovery of space and motion.
For the spectator, it's like being granted a glimpse of Adam exploring Eden. Great scooping movements, as if chunks of oxygen are being raised up to warm in the sun, dominate much of this extraordinary solo. There is fast turning on the spot, arms flung wide to feel the displacement of air. There is running, such running, in large and precisely marked figures of eight.
But the most moving moment for me was when Teshigawara, master of finesse, joined the younger man in a duet and, far from upstaging him, merely framed his limited movements. At one point the Japanese dancer spread his arms like an eagle, offering the illusion of carrying the blind man on his back. He claims to have learnt much from the encounter. It would be good to think the audience had too.Reuse content