Saburo Teshigawara has been creating dance for more than 30 years with his company KARAS. He is the only Japanese choreographer that has created work on the Paris Opera Ballet, and POB étoile Aurelie Dupont – on whom Teshigawara choreographed Darkness is Hiding Black Horses in Paris last year – premiered Sleep with Karas, in Tokyo, last week. Here, dressed in black simple clothes, she was present on stage as another member of KARAS and not as the glamorous prima ballerina.

The stagecraft and lighting, also designed by Teshigawara, were stunning. Several transparent acrylic boards were placed on stage and/or hung from the ceiling, creating a mirror-like effect that reflected or blurred the dancers' bodies, at times shining from the lighting. The boards functioned like a maze or cage, in which the dancers hid themselves, got lost, or captured. The stage was otherwise dark and the backlight cast shadows on the dancers, creating a strange atmosphere borderline between sleep and awakeness.

Teshigawara and Rihoko Sato, lead dancer from KARAS, are both strong, with versatile technique based on Butoh: low centrebalance, very flexible, often bent back backs...The movements of their hands are swift and large, and create post action effects. The dancers turn across the floor like whirlwinds, a pattern typical of Teshigawara's vocabulary. Their dancing alone, with contrasting slow breathing and speed, is mesmerizing.

© Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre
© Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre

On the other hand, Dupont's ballet based movements are slow, gentle, yet disciplined and controlled. With her willowy arms, she was floating in a dream like world, drifting like a leaf, but at the same time confronting heaven, reaching out to the skies. She went back and forth between two worlds, that of reality and dream, consciousness and unconsciousness, life and death. She seemed fragile at times, very strong at others,and this is beauty in such a simple and profound form. She was a complete stranger here, and her presence created a disharmony which was strangely beautiful.

When Sato and Dupont danced the same choreography in unison, we could see the difference in style between them, but at the same time they had this marvelous chemistry, with the apparently different Dupont influencing other dancers while absorbing Teshigawara's iconic movements and creating a new universe. In the later half of the performance, Dupont and Teshigawara stand symmetrically on the stage dancing the same choreography and we could see their styles had fused into one. Sato, dancing in the centre, had even more charisma and focus than the two stars.

Sleep does more than just represent a calm spiritual world of rest. There are nightmares too, and after Teshigawara and KARAS dancers moved wildly to the Rolling Stone's Paint it Black like a clockwork toy, came the most horrific Dance of Mirlitons (Nutcracker) with unpleasant scratching noises and screams and a female ghost like figure that looked a lot like Samara from Ring crawled on the ground. This kind of avant-garde approach is so much fun, with great expression from young dancers Eri Wanikawa and Rika Kato.

This work invites the audience into a new world, a dreamlike reality. Sleep closes with Sato drifting into sleep. It was great to see Dupont, one of the biggest stars in the ballet world – who will retire next year – reaching out to broader horizons and struggling in the face of new challenges with amazing stoicism and humbleness. She is indeed a true artist and we are so lucky to witness this magnificent collaboration in Tokyo. 

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