I recently heard Akira Lippit discussing Hirokazu Kore-eda’s wonderful film After Life. Lippit compellingly identified in the film the haunting memory of Hiroshima and the dropping of Atomic Bomb as the traumatic memory that would never heal, the trauma that pointed to the disaster that, in turn, always lay on the horizon in twentieth century Japan. Lippit identified in Japanese culture, an imaginary built on a memory, and a conception of historical memory of a trauma yet to come. And when the Fukishima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant exploded as the domino effect of a Tsunami and an Earthquake of inconceiveable proportions, the promised disaster arrived. As Lippit convinced me, it’s so difficult to see anything Japanese without looking through the lens of the violent disruptions to its history and identity effected by these traumatic events.
And so I was surprised that none of the reviews of Saburo Teshigawara’s recent piece, Mirror and Music make any reference to the disasters that underwrite Japan’s more and less recent histories. When a dancer (Teshigawara himself) stands in the line of a strobe light that tears the stage along its diagonal, music blaring with an unrelenting rhythm, we begin to see what is not there, our eyes deceiving us as the strobe creates the persistence of vision, or is it that our eyes become overwhelmed by what our ears tell us to see. Namely, the illusion of movement? The deception of vision, the overwhelm of the imagination, the loss of definition to the human body, and the intense bombardment of music that is nevertheless familiar, took me right back to the struggle to know what is real, what is reality in a world turned asunder. And because Teshigawara and his 8 dancers are Japanese, I am immediately plunged into the nightmare of the context of the country’s old and new disasters.
Teshiawara, in particular, but also the dancers who accompany him, move to a realm that pagans such as myself might recognize intellectually, but could never experience. Mirror and Music is captivating because the dancer’s movements are familiar, just like the reverberations of baroque music gone awry that dominate the soundscape. Every movement begins as a move we know from classical ballet, but the recognition only lasts momentarily. The dancers take off and through endless repetitions, and distortions, exaggerations, under the intensity of either fixed spotlights or a strobe in full force, their bodies become ephemeral, intangible, otherwordly. There were moments when the arms of the dancers moved so fast, with such repetition that their hands became replaced by some kind of transparent, multi-colored substance that wove through the air. Any resemblance the dancers might have had to you and I, restricted by the physical and spiritual limitations of being human, disappeared.
Teshigawara himself, always in motion, making repetitive gestures that defy his physicality, is like a Buddhist monk in his extraordinary ability to be in the same pose for an unending amount of time. Except, that unlike the monk in meditation, Teshigawara in a body that defies time with its classically sculpted perfection, is in unending motion. It’s as though he steps outside of his body and lets it take control as it spasms impossibly, at the same time as it is caught in a pose beyond what we know the body can do. Of course, it’s not just classical ballet that forms Teshigawara, but the politically subversive Japanese Butoh. The absurdity and poetry of Butoh, as well as its sedition and discipline, are everywhere weighing on the form and expression of Mirror and Music. Teshigawara and his dancers thus dance in a language that resonates for a cult following in Japan, and simultaneously, draws a full house to Chaillot. And like audiences of Butoh in the wake of World War II, at the end of the 75 minutes of Mirror and Music, we in the West understand the urgency to face the social (and cultural) challenges of contemporary Japan.
Images courtesy of Sakae Oguma