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Tanz im August: Dancing ghosts

Berlin's biggest dance festival opened last night with an eerie choreography by Saburo Teshigawara called Music and Mirrors. Check our review here and stay tuned for more coverage of the dance-stravaganza.

Image for Tanz im August: Dancing ghosts
Photo by Bengt Wanselius

Japanese choreographer Saburo Teshigawara’s Music and Mirrors, a ghost piece for eight dancers set to baroque music and contemporary sound, opened the 24th annual Tanz im August festival last night, and returns for an encore performance tonight (Aug 11). Alternating between eerie and affecting tableaux of cloaked and hooded figures and more sweeping passages of movement, the work is a study of disappearance and some of its adjacent processes – apparition, possession, resurrection, relentless continuance.

The strongest performance is given by the lighting – Teshigawara showcasing his skills as a designer for the stage (and Hiroki Shimizu and Sergio Pessanha as ingenious technicians). The play of light on the body creates an astonishing choreography – centripetal strobes blot out and rediscover the hooded figures, vibrating the air on the stage; a series of turning lights on a body in front of a screen create a carousel reminiscent of Muybridge’s early films; dancers lying in strips of light appear to have been severed at the waist. Particularly arresting is a section in which five figures lie, as if dead, each on a raked palette tightly swathed in a rectangle of light, the only motion the rising and falling of the lights on the palettes, like the depression of keys on a piano.

Teshigawara’s use of light to create movement is bold enough to suggest a new choreographic form; the same can’t be said of his more elegiac dance sequences, though his own solos – playing with the tight flow of energy through the body – are technically impressive. The structure of the piece is not particularly strong – static in sections, dropping some intriguing framing devices and visual tropes in favor of less-compelling operatic builds – but the precision of the lighting, the material transformation it effects on the space and the body, is visually stunning and not to be missed.