Triennale Milano
Saburo Teshigawara, Glass Tooth, ph Toshiaki Yamaguchi

Dance as Meditation and Learning: An Interview with Saburo Teshigawara

November 25 2022
Japanese choreographer and dancer Saburo Teshigawara (who is also a painter, sculptor and designer), Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement for Dance at the 2022 Venice Biennale, is on stage on December 3 and 4 as part of the Triennale’s 2022 theater season with one of his latest works, Adagio, in which he performs with his longtime collaborator.
Rihoko Satoph. Akihito Abe
Adagio is the eighty-eighth installment of the Update Dance project known as KARAS APPARATUS, a creative space you opened in 2013 in Tokyo’s Ogikubo district. How did this work come about?
Adagio means music played at a slow tempo. When I dance an Adagio, my body liquefies and gradually disappears. All I feel is my heart floating in the air. Words slowly disappear, meanings too, even life itself, and that’s when I have the sensation of experiencing life and death. It may not be an appropriate metaphor, but if you think of the body as a piece of music, the first movement is the head and face; the second movement is the torso, particularly the heart; the third is the limbs; and the fourth is the whole body. Given this overall structure, might we not say that an Adagio is the heart of a composition? The quieter movement governs the entire piece in an extremely rich way, bringing the energy at the centre of life to the fore. We can almost hear the unique, elemental music at the origin of its unique life, concealed through richness by penetrating the infinite wave motion of life.
Like most of your works, Adagio is conceived and “performed” with Rihoko Sato. How does the female point of view and its presence influence your creative process, from early on through to on-stage?
She is an absolutely tangible existence, not just her dancing body but also and especially her inner soul which lies behind every single work, nobly devoting itself as a link with its own message: from the very beginning of the creative process you hear echoes of this, perceive the light of its existence through to the end of the work. That’s what she is! All this forms the foundation of my creative process.
ph. Akihito Abe
This year, the Venice Biennale awarded you the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in Dance. In citing the reasons for the award, Wayne McGregor wrote that in your work, “his powerful sense of choreographic form and very personal language combine to create a world uniquely his own. His practice spans a wide range of disciplines, from theatre to the visual arts, from film/video to set, lighting and costume design for all his shows. What makes him a one-off compared with other artists is his ability to build entire artistic ecosystems, as well as his inexhaustible courage to unlearn. Teshigawara grasps the power of a body in constant flux, and is determined to expand choreography’s potential beyond its traditional limits.” How important is it to explore different disciplines and media as a function of your artistic creativity, and what is your approach toward non-dance creative aspects, for example costumes, set design, and lighting? Can thinking about creativity in its entirety help you push the boundaries of your artistic flow toward new interactions between dance and other fields?
My ultimate goal is not to explore different disciplines. What matters is whether my interest takes me somewhere or not, whether there is an artistic imperative for that to happen. In other words, you might say it depends on the possibility of establishing a reciprocal relationship, one in which the object of my interest offers me something, if I can receive something from it. The relationship is born out of interest and necessity, rather than something I intentionally choose.
ph. Hideto Maezawa
You are an esteemed professor and a brilliant teacher, with a focus on the new generation of dancers and their opportunities for growth. How much inspiration do you get from your students and your work as an educator?
I learned to study because I was taught it in life. Before that happened, I had no idea how to learn. Later on, I found that I could study autonomously. So, put simply: first, knowledge acquired and experienced unconsciously (before consciously wanting to learn); then I was taught, and I learned; after that, autonomy in learning. For me, the next step was to teach others and learn through that. The way I see it, teaching is the source of learning and learning is the source of teaching. My career as a dancer has developed along parallel lines: teaching/learning, and creating. Before my first creation, I was teaching, experimenting and studying the body with students in my workshops. That was the first rail; the second rail was creation itself; I have been proceeding along this track ever since.
ph. Hideto Maezawa
How do you imagine dance in the future? What evolution do you consider essential for dance to continue to communicate something and move people?
I believe the basis of dance should always be founded on an in-depth study of theories of nature and life, derived from that knowledge even if it has no direct connection with dance. Embark on this unique and sincere journey, the something that a given person first felt, and then keep on nurturing it with tenacity and joy. Do not conform, do not fear being isolated, believe in people’s intelligence and love. But I don’t think, nor do I want to think, about what will become of dance in the future. That is not my concern.