Japanese choreographer Saburo Teshigawara looks beyond his reflection

For “Mirror and Music,” Teshigawara choreographed the dance; contributed to the design of the set, lighting and costumes; and helped select the music. (Photo by Sakae Oguma)

Dancers spend their days looking in the mirror: checking positions, eyeing flaws and noting how to improve. But the mirror can become a crutch.

Japanese dancer and choreographer Saburo Teshigawara largely eschews mirrors in his Tokyo studio, which is notable because his company, Karas, will perform his piece “Mirror and Music” at the Kennedy Center next week.

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Making its North American debut, “Mirror and Music” is a meditation on what is seen and what is imagined, what exists and what haunts the edges of thinking and memory. As Teshigawara wrote in a poem that serves as a companion to the work: “Nothing appears on the surface of a mirror / You can see through it, but nothing exists / Mirror and . . . music, duplify the world.”

“I don’t need to be in the mirror in the studio,” Teshigawara said recently via Skype from his studio. “When I use a mirror, I never see my face . . . but I follow my shadow in the mirror. That means I don’t let my complete focus [fall] on the mirror and my figure. It’s obscured, maybe 30 percent.”

The work — for eight dancers plus Teshigawara, who performs a solo — plays with light and shadow, noise and calm, point and counterpoint, as well as a mirror and an array of musical choices.

“When I see the mirror, I find that it is not a mirror; it’s just a plate of glass,” he said. “The vision that we’re seeing in the mirror is just a light reflection. I get feelings of something behind the mirror when I see a reflected vision. I think that idea is so rich, to imagine [what is] behind the mirror.”

Teshigawara, 59, didn’t begin his artistic studies as a dancer. “I actually wanted to be a painter,” he said. “I painted every day. I drew every day. But as a teenager, it was so frustrating. I never got any satisfaction. . . . I was so bored.”

He said he turned to dance at age 20 because he felt his body was “more interesting material than paint and paper. . . . I thought maybe dance [would be] the best way to use my body.” But Teshigawara found ballet monotonous, and he ultimately broke away and developed his own singular aesthetic.

“I didn’t have any desire to follow famous choreographers or dancers,” he said, adding that for inspiration, he prefers to go to film screenings and music concerts rather than dance performances. In addition to the choreography for “Mirror and Music,” Teshigawara contributed designs for the set, lighting and costumes, and he helped compile the music, which ranges from baroque to contemporary with a smattering of industrial sounds.

“I think that music is very, very objective, but you cannot see it. A chair, a computer, these things you can see,” he said. “Music you cannot see, but it is so powerful and very, very physical for me.”

When you look into a mirror, Teshigawara said, “you see your face, but it is always reversed, so it’s a fake, but you cannot say fake. It’s real, but it’s an unreal real. I think about it: I feel or I see or I imagine a vision.

“If I can see through this mirror, maybe something more interesting is happening at the same time behind the mirror that’s on the stage, or maybe nothing has happened, or everybody goes away . . . and sometimes I feel I need to break the mirror, I need to see reality behind the mirror.”

Traiger is a freelance writer.

Mirror and Music

Thursday and Sept. 13 at 8 p.m. at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW. 202-467-4600. www.kennedy-center.org. $19-$45. A discussion with members of the company will be held after the Thursday performance.

 
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