You don’t look for coherence in the works of Japanese choreographer Saburo Teshigawara, you go to experience them. Mirror and Music (2009) is characteristic: a loose-knit mesh of sound, motion, light and space that both stimulates your senses and baffles your brain. Several seams thread through this 80-minute piece: frames of light against darkness, the alternation of early chamber music with industrial sound, bodies animated by forces beyond their control.
At the beginning, the darkened stage is raked by reeling lights and – as if through the spinning slots of a zoetrope – you catch glimpses of mysterious hooded figures. Later, Teshigawara is bathed in an uneven current of light, his shadow flickering behind him like a stop-motion doppelganger. In his late 50s, Teshigawara is an astonishingly articulate performer. In one mesmerising solo he progresses along a straight diagonal as if the air above it were a jagged jigsaw of obstacles, deflecting his head away from his body and squeezing his limbs into convoluted channels. Other solos, both for him and his exquisite dancers, seem like highly choreographed constructions of involuntary movements – muscle tremors, nervous pulses, gut reactions.
Two ensemble sections counterbalance the piece. The first, to renaissance music, is sunny and spirited: the dancers skim and swoop like swallows, their overlapping paths trailing behind them like the play of light on water. The second is dark and doomed: the dancers jiggle on the spot like puppets being rattled, as they’re slowly edged towards the oblivion of the black backcloth.
The bold imagery and deft dancing make every scene arresting, but you can have too much of a good thing; and sometimes we did. Still, Teshigawara (who is also lighting, set and costume designer) is a visionary of the stage, even if you can’t tell what he’s seeing.