Some dance in London – thoughts on Saburo Teshigawara, Diana Vishneva’s CONTEXT Festival & Introdans

Saburo Teshigawara & Rihoko Sato in <I>The Idiot</I>.<br />© Elliott Franks. (Click image for larger version)
Saburo Teshigawara & Rihoko Sato in The Idiot.
© Elliott Franks. (Click image for larger version)

Saburo Teshigawara & Rihoko Sato
The Idiot

London, Print Room at the Coronet
21 March 2019

Diana Vishneva, Perm Ballet and others
CONTEXT Festival of Russian contemporary choreography

London, Sadler’s Wells
12 March 2019

Dutch Masters bill

London, Linbury Theatre
15 March 2019

All dance lovers should see Saburo Teshigawara at least once. I can’t guarantee, at all, that you will enjoy what you see – indeed many will feel frustrated, I fancy, but I can guarantee that you will see a very different quality and style of dance from probably anything else you will have encountered. He’s a one-off and to enter his world is a pretty unique experience – as The Idiot, currently running at Notting Hill Gate’s Printroom (unique in its own way too) more than shows.

Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot is about an uncommonly gentle and unknowing man and his encounters with the real world, where people see his innocence as that of a simpleton – The Idiot. According to Wikipedia: “It includes descriptions of some of his most intense personal ordeals, such as epilepsy and mock execution, and explores moral, spiritual and philosophical themes consequent upon them.”

There are a cast of characters in the book, but in Teshigawara’s version there is only him and his regular collaborator, Rihoko Sato, to carry it all forward. “I knew it was impossible to create a choreography from such a novel,” he says. “But this impossibility was the key to approaching and creating something completely new. A dance that exists only in the present moment. A duo that transforms each voice, every scream or whisper in motion. There is no question of a narrative dance, but rather of recreating a language of the body.”

Saburo Teshigawara in The Idiot.© Elliott Franks. (Click image for larger version)
Saburo Teshigawara in The Idiot.
© Elliott Franks. (Click image for larger version)

Over the 80-minute piece what we get is a series of episodes that pick up on the personality and experiences of Prince Myshkin (the Idiot). We see his gauche ways, his epilepsy and his troubled mind as a rat patrols the stage extremities (Emiko Murayama, in what must be one of the most unrewarding of dance roles). At 65 Teshigawara has wonderful control of his muscles and moves with paint-drying slowness or rapid flickering of limbs – his hands and fingers are particularly impressive. At times you think you are seeing a life-size puppet, with staccato, semi-robotic movement – there is no ease to it. The movement seems even more watchable because of the often-impassive look on his broad face. Rihoko Sato, as the scheming Nastasya Filippovna, gets more conventional dance, often of swirling beauty, but it’s Teshigawara that your eyes keep returning to, be the music sweepingly classical or electronicly troubled.

I’d say I found the movement truly fascinating perhaps half the time, but I didn’t get swept up in what could seem such an introspective approach and well before the end I was ready to decamp to the excellent Printroom bar where drinks are served in candlelight across a grand piano counter. Glad I saw The Idiot, but once was enough.

It’s been a good time for seeing interestingly different dance in London and I wanted to touch briefly on two shows worthy of coverage.

Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes in <I>Vertigo</I>.<br />© Daniil Golovkin. (Click image for larger version)
Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes in Vertigo.
© Daniil Golovkin. (Click image for larger version)

Diana Vishneva’s CONTEXT Festival, subtitled a ‘Showcase of Russian contemporary choreography’, had a one-night stand at the Wells and was a real reminder of how wonderful Russian dancers are, and… how strange and alien Russian productions can be. Vishneva is not the first ballet dancer to cast a wider contemporary net and it’s interesting to get a glimpse of what some new-generation choreographers are up to in Russia. As curated by Vishneva, the answer seems to be be quirky, fun and strange in the case of works by Konstantin Keikhel, Pavel Glukhov, Olga Vasilieva and Vladimir Varnava. Sadly the free programme is very coy about what their pieces were about, or their inspiration, and all four seemed to have the same jovially perplexing vibe, but danced immaculately and with conviction. It would have been nice to see a greater variety of approach.

Perm Ballet in <I>Asunder</I>.<br />© Mark Olich. (Click image for larger version)
Perm Ballet in Asunder.
© Mark Olich. (Click image for larger version)

The big draw was to see Vishneva dance, but she only appeared in one piece, if with the excellent Marcelo Gomes. Vertigo, a work by Mauro Bigonzetti, is now more than 20 years old, if renamed and refreshed recently for her. It’s really a striking gala piece of contemporary ballet that won’t scare the horses and allows both dancers to show their strength and technique. There’s a thrilling angularity and snap to it and you wished there were more of the pair on display. The other big draw was an excerpt from Nureyev – the controversial (in Russia) ballet that was cancelled just before its Moscow premiere. Eventually it was premiered 6 months late. The excerpt was performed by Denis Savin and Ekaterina Shipulina and was a complete disappointment. They danced separately and the choreography, by the normally dramatic Yuri Possokhov, looked very pedestrian out of full context and featured a Russian voice over, that meant nothing to us in London. The programme included a lengthy translation: they are letters to Nureyev by well-known stars, delightful reminiscences if impossible to read while the dance is running. If this really was the best bit of Nureyev then one can only conclude the worst about the whole thing. But the evening picked itself up by clocking out with dancers from the Perm Opera and Ballet company dancing Goyo Montero’s Asunder – it might have been overly long and featured some silly false endings, but like the start of the night it reminds us of the power that good dancers possess and made you hope that Vishneva would do another festival but with more varied choreography and… more of her in it.

Introdans in Hans van Manen's <I>Polish Pieces</I>.<br />© Hans Gerritsen. (Click image for larger version)
Introdans in Hans van Manen’s Polish Pieces.
© Hans Gerritsen. (Click image for larger version)

Although I didn’t go to review, I must mention Introdans’s recent visit to the ROH Linbury to showcase some contemporary neoclassical Dutch works by Hans van Manen, Jirí Kylián and Nils Christe. As with the Russians, again it was the dancers who triumphed and they need to be put on at a much bigger theatre, like the Wells. They opened with two two Hans van Manen works and the clarity of choreography and stripped-back costumes still make the works look very modern. The dancers were unusually well drilled and the opening piece (Polish Pieces) really thrives on meticulous precision in unison. Van Manen is uber-cool and calm but often with a repressed fizzing undertow – you feel the dancers could explode with passion at any time – just fascinating watching. Jiri Kylians’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer), looked less startling – its long flowing dresses have an unflatteringly 80’s feel, and so much of Kilian’s dance language has been appropriated by many others – such flattery really. Wayfarer is still, though, a powerful piece of theatre based on Mahler’s well-known song cycle. The evening ended with Christe’s Cantus – a nicely danced recent work, but overall it was the dancers’ night and we need to see much more of Introdans in the UK. That and Hans van Manen’s works.

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