An isolated body in an isolated room. A body contorting swiftly, deftly with grounded grace and specificity. A bounded space that is a prison, a sanctuary, a world of torment, or the mind itself. This past Saturday a group of audience members gathered in the Walker’s balcony bar to discuss diverse impressions left by Saburo Teshigawara’s solo performance Miroku.
For many, Teshigawara’s movements seemed to embody a sweep of tensions in their dynamic, yet intimate, physicality and in the larger relationships created between body and stage set. One could see the angst of Sartre in the contorted efforts of a solitary body lost or forgotten in a barren room, futility and fragility, angular beauty, or the awkwardness of primordial, infantile discovery. The introduction of a bare light bulb added elements of sexuality, violence, and the question of control. In leaning over the light, Teshigawara cast a menacing shadow that seemed to hover over and encroach upon him, revealing the cyclical and embedded nature of attempts at asserting dominance.
Despite the prominence of tension in the work, an underlying harmony seemed to animate the piece, revealed within Teshigawara’s body itself in the physical interconnection required to execute his movements, but also in the performance as gesamtkunstwerk. Teshigawara is a choreographer and performer, but his control over costume, soundscape, lighting and set design created a total work of art where the physical body was not only complimented by, but immersed within an evolving environment. Although sparse, the set maintained a richness of color, shadow, and light that continually transformed in unison with the performer’s shifting states and gestures. Light became Teshigawara’s dance partner – framing him, controlled by him, passing him by, and washing over him.
Emphasizing the meaning of the work’s title, Miroku, the future Buddha, opened and encouraged a distinct range of interpretations. The evening’s program notes furthered this theme, stating that the piece was “based on the spirit to see the present from the eye of the future.” This aspect highlighted moments where Teshigawara seemed to embody a ritual or spiritual impetus, even taking the posture of the reclining Buddha. While Miroku may inspire the question of whether this arrival of the future Buddha is tragic or ultimately liberating, many audience members saw not these extremes, but rather the process of continual struggle that colors an individual’s life in a range of hues.
Philosopher Roland Barthes proclaimed that “the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author”, but given the immediacy of live performance, does this notion still apply? Where is the line between our entitlement as audience members to take and interpret what we will and a responsibility to the artist to attempt to see what they intended? Speaking of his technique of movement, Teshigawara has stated that “[b]efore understanding there is feeling, and from there it is possible to proceed towards conscious understanding.” Miroku provided a range of possibilities, but as one audience member suggested, these diverse interpretations need not be mutually exclusive. As Teshigawara shifted through a spectrum of motions and states, we as audience members followed suit. In the end, we are left with impressions of individual moments and a larger arc of the evening, memories to carry, recall, and reinterpret. As Teshigawara emphasizes, we “proceed towards” understanding, but part of the richness of the experience is that the process is never complete.
Thank you to the audience members who gathered Saturday and contributed their thoughtful insights. The above paragraphs highlight portions of our discussion, which was facilitated by Walker tour guide Jenny Skinner and choreographer Ananya Chatterjea. Whether or not you were able to join us, please feel free to add your own comments and questions to continue and expand the discussion in this online forum. Audience members seeking to more deeply engage with the performance may be interested in listening to Justin Jones’ interview with Walker Performing Arts Curator Philip Bither.
Please join us following the performance on May 22 when we will meet in the McGuire Theater’s balcony bar to discuss John Jasperse’s “Truth, Revised Histories, Wishful Thinking, and Flat Out Lies.”