It is perhaps for the best not to wrestle with any narrative connections between this hour-long, pared-down dance theatre and the novel that it is supposed to represent. They are there, if often so subtle as to be only a thin veneer of relevance to the two central characters in Dostoevsky’s tome (for this viewer, at least), portraying just a fleeting flavour of Prince Myshkin (The Idiot) and Nastasya Filippovna, the main female character.

Saburo Teshigawara and Rihoko Sato in The Idiot
© Elliott Franks

Much better instead to see this as a work of dance and gesture, even if with thin connotations to The Idiot, and, with this caveat, for the first 30 minutes I felt it to be an absorbing work performed by a movement genius with the most extraordinary quality of motion. I don’t usually reference a performer’s age but Saburo Teshigawara is now 65 and it is beyond my comprehension that a man can still move with such muscular control and feline fluidity well into his seventh decade. We first encounter Teshigawara in a faithful representation of Dostoevsky’s innocence and essential goodness before he launches into a dynamic solo, which has resonance with hip-hop qualities of body-popping and locking with Teshigawara moving like a marionette controlled by a manic puppeteer, his body distorted into unusual shapes and arms fluttering around his torso like a kaleidoscope of butterflies. The character of Myshkin first appears in the novel, having returned to Russia from a long period overseas, being treated for epilepsy and one supposes this solo to represent that condition; or, perhaps it is the unworldly-wise young man being subject to the disdain and vilification of those around him; or, maybe, both (and more).

Several minutes into the work, the main protagonist is joined on stage by Rihoko Sato (who has worked closely with Teshigawara in his various creative guises under the KARAS umbrella, since 1995) who floats through the space in her evocation of the enigmatic Nastasya Filippovna. The empathetic Myshkin has compassion for this woman (who is emotionally broken and destructive, having been sexually abused by her guardian from a young age), and a sequence appears to describe their interaction at a ball with a Tchaikovsky waltz playing as he gently, and protectively, shepherds her into a formal dance. But Sato’s Filippovna is austere and unobtainable and as Teshigawara spins and turns with passion, Sato whirls contemptuously away from him in wider circles. Their relationship is evocatively described in dance through their frequent proximity but rarely touching (so far as I recall, they touch only once and briefly). Both performers are commanding presences. A third dancer (Emiko Murayama) appears briefly as a rat, scurrying quickly around the stage before absconding with Myshkin’s jacket, which he disrobes in slow motion.

Saburo Teshigawara in The Idiot
© Elliott Franks

The music is a tempting collage of uncredited melodies from Russian composers (as well as Tchaikovsky there is also Shostakovich) and the flickering lighting effects add atmosphere, which is also assured through the choice of venue (The Print Room at the Coronet is a one-of-a-kind theatrical venue, decked with candles and artefacts throughout the public areas to give a timeless, aged quality). Costume also plays a part in accentuating the contrasts between the two characters, with bald-headed Teshigawara wearing a buttoned-up white shirt and bell-bottomed white trousers with turn-ups (like something Gene Kelly might have worn in On The Town); Sato has blonde hair tightly woven into plaits and wears a long black dress.

Unfortunately, the arresting value of the opening did not sustain through to the end and with a grey rat scurrying around it all seemed to lose the clarity of shape that the beginning had promised. Nonetheless, the exceptional movement qualities of these veteran performers – and another chance to visit this unique and memorable venue – made for a very worthwhile evening.