Settling down to Puccini's score;Arts

23rd July 1999 at 01:00
Japanese director Saburo Teshigawara stumps about like a man wearing Wellington boots but when he gestures, he seems to grow like a time-lapse flower. "You are not weak, you are sensitive," he tells the dancers. "You are opening yourselves by breathing, by air, by music." He watches them uncoil and stretch, their bodies filled with Puccini's swelling, soaring Turandot.

Teshigawara is in Edinburgh to direct Turandot in the Playhouse, but gave his time last week to the first education workshop to take place in The Hub, the new festival centre at the top of the Royal Mile.

He tells the dancers to listen to his or her own body. It begins with breathing. "Breathing is

so important. Air and flow - that is why any human, anybody, can dance."

The group jump to his

percussion track, at first vigorously, then diminishing as the volume decreases until they are hardly moving. Finally the

music is silent and they are motionless, but still breathing in rhythm as Teshigawara beats time with his head.

The other energy comes from the floor, he says. "You need soft soles. Grip the floor easily, release the upper body, let the energy flow upwards."

All this self-contemplation seems more than a few thousand miles away from Western traditions of dance, but Teshigawara is dismissive of distinctions between East and West. "We have noisy extroverts in Tokyo, too. It is simply the preparation to dance, anywhere.

"We can analyse where movement comes from: music, style, tradition. But first it comes from our stretch, between our fingers, between the chin and the chest, between our arms. Everyone has a personal quality, to be shared by the others. Dancers should serve one another."

For now the group practises for the public showing that ends the week, sternly concentrating on the Puccini arias, timing their stretchings and reachings to the phrasings of the melody. They seem constrained and methodical; Teshigawara interrupts with what seems to be a punishing session of skipping and jumping, shaking and spine-bending, which I guess is to soften the tension brought on by the idea of "performance".

Leading them in this explosion of energy is the diminutive cast member Rihoko. In the public showing, she goes to the back row where she expands like an inflatable doll with the music's surge, till her fingers stretch like petals in sunshine. In the final diminuendo, she slowly closes in on herself, her eyes closing as the music dies away.

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