Tapping space to create shape
They come from different backgrounds, but had the chance to share a great dance adventure. VERONICA SHUNMUGAM meets a dance mentor and his protege in New York. Teshigawara. Zenlike approach to dance.
THE best of choreographers seem to be those who, like Rolex dance mentor Saburo Teshigawara, have developed ideas so thoroughly that they can create moves around his thoughts, as well as articulate them to nondancers. So, it was apt that luxury watch house Rolex chose Teshigawara to select and groom a promising young dancer under the dance category of the Rolex Mentor Protege Initiative 2004/05. Like fellow mentors in the other categories visual arts, music, theatre, literature and film Teshigawara auditioned four finalists (in February 2004) sourced by scouts Rolex sent around the globe. He was looking for someone with finelyhoned coordination and a willingness to try new things, and found these in 23year old Ethiopian Junaid Jemal Sendi. “Always, I look for real coordination, not just intuitive creativity in movement. In Junaid, I saw a strong sense of time. Related to that is the ability to find a way to the future. In dance, the place is given, but the dance shapes time. That’s the basis of my dance method. And I said to myself, ‘I can work with him’,” said Teshigawara, 53. Junaid, who sold cigarettes and paper tissues as a boy, did not have the privilege of regular dance classes. But in1996, he was one of 100 lucky ones picked by British choreographer Royston Maldoom from thousands of Addis Ababa’s street kids, to take part in a dance outreach programme. As a result, he got to peform before an audience of 200,000. “I had a solo in Firebird. Mostly they threw me up high in the air because I was so small,” Junaid recalled. The success of the outreach programme led Maldoom to set up the Adugna Community Dance Initiative (Adugna), which offered a core group of 18 youths, among them Junaid, five years of fulltime training as dancers, teachers and administrators. Again, Junaid was selected. In 2003, he had gained media attention at home and abroad when his choreography, Yemot Guzo, was first among 71 video works submitted for Sanga 3, a dance competition in Madagascar. Adugna was invited to perform Yemot Guzo in Madagascar and doors began to open for the young choreographer. Junaid’s first “assignment” with Teshigawara was a workshop in May 2004, in Lille, France. Since then, he has taken part in an intensive twoweek workshop (August to September 2004) with Teshigawara’s dance company Karas in Yokohama, Japan, and toured with it around Tokyo and Hong Kong (February to March 2005). Junaid said his mentor allowed him to learn at a comfortable pace. “He didn’t really pull me into the group right away. He taught me things slowly and gave me time to observe. Now, whenever I teach or should I become someone’s mentor that is how I want to work.” Saburo Teshigawara (left) and Junaid Jemal Sendi rehearsing for a performance.
Teshigawara has a Zenlike approach to dance as well as the mentoring process. “In this project, personal sympathy is more important than the cultural differences, which will be seen through Junaid’s dance in the future. (My aim is) to make what was not possible through mutual influence: this opens up infinite potential in any art field or in our daily lives. Besides, the confusion that comes with it makes it the greatest adventure and hopes we can have.” As part of Rolex’s initiative, Teshigawara, let dance students and enthusiasts in on some of the dance ideas which have made his works, stand out, at a dance studio in Barnard College, Columbia University, New York, last December. Junaid was on hand to help demonstrate warmup exercises and dance moves to the 20odd students. “We believe the brain is more active after the body has tired itself after a series of warmups,” said Teshigawara, who set up Karas in 1985 with Kei Miyata to encourage conventional ballet, modern, Butoh and postmodern dancers to create new movement. He explained how dancers could benefit if they understood that (pockets of) space existed within and immediately around their bodies, not just on stage and between performers. Hidden spaces exist in the back of the throat, behind the ears, and between the fingers, armpits and hip joints. “I notice that when animals fight, they attack each other’s throat, armpits and other hidden spaces first. So these spaces are vital, vulnerable, almost sacred, sometimes sexual and therefore, living.” Teshigawara also pointed out that better breathing rhythms help dancers relax, and understand and work with their bodies in the same way musicians, especially classical singers, do. “(Correct) breathing is as important for dance as it is for marathons. To tune their bodies, dancers first need to relax and release tension, and weight,” he said, urging the participants to relax their jaws, mouths and tongue, and shake like a wet dog to release weight. To help the dancers visualise inhaling and exhaling, he asked them to imagine squeezing an orange in one hand as they breathed in, then releasing their grip as they out. “If you could (visually) draw breath control, you’d get a line that curves gently upwards and back downwards, with the highest point indicating maximum breath intake.” Music, Teshigawara added, could help a dancer create shape and quality of movement in choreography.
“Classical ballet is very choreographed and geometrical. I have great respect for its ideas and techniques. Many dancers in my Europe dance company have ballet training. “But what’s most important is the quality of dance and time. When working with the blind (for example), we focus on just the body and timing, which become very important if you cannot see the other dancers coming on stage. From this, I believe I can create time through dance.” How does a dancer’s individuality affect the way he works with her body and the choreography? “It is important to know the individual’s original movement and to understand each other before choreographing. The shape (of the choreography) can be stable, but the quality of its movement and ‘colour’ is changeable.” Junaid said his group members back in Addis Ababa were aware that he had gained a lot from the Rolex programme and were “ready to accept new information” from him. He gave credit to his mentor: “Teshigawara’s breathing techniques and visualising has have helped me move easier.”