Saburo Teshigawara & Junaid Jemal SendiA clear plan

Published in 2005clockTime to read: 4m55s
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It began with Junaid watching Saburo Teshigawara managing lights and arranging the stage. It ended with him dancing a major role in the Tokyo premiere of Kazahana. In February 2004, Teshigawara auditioned the four dance finalists for the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, looking for the one most likely to find new paths to travel, the one with the most finely honed coordination, the one least set in his ways – the one, in short, in whom he could see the most “energy for the future”. That was Junaid, whose build – wiry and elastic, but still very slight – belies the hugeness of his dreams.

by Matthew Gurewitsch 2005
  • Saburo Teshigawara
    The Mentor
  • Junaid Jemal Sendi
    The Protégé

Mentorship in three stages

From the beginning of their mentoring year, Saburo Teshigawara had a clear plan in mind. In the first stage, Junaid would observe and assist. Next, he would be integrated into Teshigawara’s ensemble, learning and performing parts in existing pieces. Finally, through a process of intense improvisation, they would develop new choreography for Junaid to dance.

The adventure begins in Lille, France

In May 2004, Junaid joined Teshigawara for their initial phase, that of observation and assistance, on Prelude for Dawn. Outdoors the city was baking under a fierce sun; inside it might as well have been midnight. Instead of the thoroughbred artist-athletes Teshigawara customarily puts through their paces, the dancers were a score of French schoolchildren, all visually impaired or blind. The steps and gestures he had given them were elementary, but the architecture he built over the span of 40 packed minutes was anything but. The simple acts of walking, turning, running or raising an arm – introduced by a single child, then repeated and varied by the group – assumed a genuine majesty.

Observer and assistant

Junaid’s role at this juncture is partly that of observer, partly that of assistant: a man unseen. Off in the wings, he is keeping watch to see that the fledgling dancers catch their cues and hit their marks. Sometimes, under cover of a blackout, Junaid assists by walking them to their places. And once in a while, as the lights come back up, his slight silhouette is caught stealing back into the shadows like a furtive ghost.

Witness to the creative process

Teshigawara’s singular form of dance theatre strikes many viewers as deeply mysterious, and it is mysterious to Junaid, which shows that he is paying attention. To initiate Junaid into his perplexities, Teshigawara assigned him the role of witness to the creation of a second new piece called Kazahana, this one for a dozen professional dancers of awesome proficiency. According to Teshigawara’s programme notes, the title denotes the phenomenon of snow fluttering to earth from a clear blue sky.

Time to move

Although Teshigawara has directed a troupe of his own in his time, he prefers to travel lighter now. Other than three full-time associates, the Kazahana dancers were drawn from a loose network – some freelancers, some members of stable companies – who share his desire to expand the horizons of their discipline. Upon arrival in Lille, Junaid was immediately integrated into that network, taking part in morning classes and improvisations.

‘Breathe’

There Junaid was often struck by the simplicity of Teshigawara’s directions. “He’ll say: ‘Breathe’ or ‘Melt’. Slowly he adds things, and the movement grows, until at the end, it’s big, with a very deep feeling. He examines the different ways the dancers move, and really uses the different ways they move when they dance together. He uses dancers very wisely.”

Watching through a viewfinder

“To observe is preparation for dancing,” Teshigawara said. No doubt to sharpen Junaid’s eye, he initially put the young dancer to work with a video camera – an indispensable tool in these surroundings, both for its documentary uses and as a creative instrument in its own right. “It’s hard not to dance when others are dancing,” Junaid said, “but I’m here to learn about choreography, and I have to be patient.”

Finally performing

The initial phase of observation was soon to end, and Junaid’s patience (or impatience?) rewarded. For July, Teshigawara invited Junaid to Civitanova, on the Adriatic coast of Italy, to dance in Green, a beatific vision conjured up amid live goats and rabbits. Of course, continuing observation was on Junaid’s programme, too, notably of the final half-hour solo (to Mozart) for Teshigawara himself, a dancer whose intellectual rigour meshes seamlessly with the unguarded spontaneity of a child.

Highlights of the year

Beyond Italy, the master plan called for Junaid to join Teshigawara in Japan for advanced study. Mentor and protégé went to work each day in a converted bank where Teshigawara developed a fresh segment for Junaid to introduce in the Tokyo premiere of Kazahana in February 2005. In the chronicle of Junaid’s year with Teshigawara, this Japanese debut in a major role (with subsequent reprise in Hong Kong) stands out as a high point.

Inner visions

But while in Japan, Junaid also reached a more private pinnacle. Teshigawara had chosen the tight inner strongroom that once served as the bank’s walk-in safe as the location for Perspective Study, vol. 1, a video that investigates how the eye constructs what it sees. Junaid and Rihoko Sato – Teshigawara’s choreographic assistant – are the only figures on-screen. The sequence that lingers most indelibly shows Junaid positioned in profile, torso pulsing, wrists angled, hands flung high and forward, striking like a cobra.

Extracted from a chapter, written by Matthew Gurewitsch for Unique Voices, Common Visions, a record of the 2004/2005 cycle of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.

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