Contemporary dance with the God of Manga

For this post I have a brief look at Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s TeZukA which had its première performances at Sadler’s Wells in London a few weeks ago. Stirred back into recollection by the performance, in the next few days I’ll also be listing a few of my favourite Tezuka or Tezuka derived/inspired works and explaining why I think they’re worth checking out.

TeZukA is a show which combines dance, martial arts, calligraphy, video projection effects, science lectures, and Japanese history into a celebration of Osamu Tezuka, Japan’s legendary cartoonist and animator. It features interpretations of his famous characters such Astro Boy, Black Jack, Buddha, Hyakkimaru as well as Tezuka himself, with trademark beret and glasses. The mostly traditional themed music is by Nitin Sawhney (whom I remember from his excellent soundtrack to the game Enslaved – Odyssey to the West), played live by musicians on one side of the stage.

As a love letter to Tezuka’s work and influence it works really well and you can clearly see that choreographer Cherkaoui cares deeply about the stories and characters he’s putting on stage, and as a viewer you get to appreciate the style and technique in Tezuka’s artwork as panels and pages from his comics are projected and animated onto the background and on giant scrolls which roll down from the ceiling. However, I can’t help but feel that for those unfamiliar with Tezuka, the performance would lose a lot of its impact as a lot of the piece is celebration without that much explanation as to why these things need celebrating.

With my extremely limited knowledge of dance I can’t comment too much on the choreography but to say there were some interesting scenes but largely I was more interested in what was going on around the dancers, with the exception of Astro Boy’s entertaining robotic moves. Discussing the performance afterwards, one of my more dance savvy companions shared their opinion that “often the themes and ideas behind contemporary dance are more interesting the dancing itself”. I also have to criticise the length of the piece which seemed to loose steam soon after the mid-point intermission, despite a vigorous drum & bass breakdown towards the end.

If you are already a Tezuka fan, it’s definitely worth seeing for an interesting take on his life and characters, plus the nostalgic feelings it’s bound to arouse. If you don’t know his work then go read some of his books and take a peek at The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga by Helen McCarthy. And read my next post about my personal Tezuka highlights…

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