I’ve been putting off writing a review of TeZukA which I saw at Sadler’s Wells recently because I simply didn’t know what to say. It was like nothing I had ever seen before, and I’ve been struggling to find the words to describe it.

Basically, TeZukA was a dance performance choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui (link is in French), inspired by the work of the Japanese manga artist and animator, Osamu Tezuka. Through the performance, Cherkaoui explores Tezuka’s world – a blend of tradition, science fiction and contemporary reality. The show was predoninantly in English, but also featured French and Japanese. For the French and some of the Japanese there were screens with subtitles on.

I went into the theatre really not knowing much at all about Tezuka’s work, except for Astro Boy. Anyone who has ever been to Kyoto should recognise Astro Boy, as he features on a large sign right outside Kyoto Station. (This is because the Osamu Tezuku Manga Museum is in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, which is about an hour by train from Kyoto.)

Kyoto Station, 29th December 2008

But that was about all I knew of Tezuka. I wasn’t alone, though. As I sat in the foyer waiting to go into the theatre, I heard other people talking, and it seemed a lot of people had only come to see the show because of the choreographer, or because they were regular patrons of Sadler’s Wells. I didn’t actually see anyone there who looked like a manga fan.

The score was by Nitin Sawhney (an artist who I once bought a fantastic album by on a whim). It was a beautiful mixture of drums and strings, which made me think of Japan and India. In the interval I rushed to see if a CD was available, but unfortunately they haven’t made one yet as it’s such a new show.

The performance included dance, music, and visual art – mostly in the form of projections. Some of Tezuka’s original illustrations were projected alongside work by video artist Taiki Ueda and calligraphy by Tosui Suzuki.

The Sadler’s Wells website said: “Using the dancers’ movements to trace the physical evolution of Tezuka’s drawings – from a line on a blank page to a single Japanese kanji (letter) to a fully-formed manga character – Cherkaoui will bring the “God of Manga’s” philosophy, drawings and characters to life.“. I can’t find any better words to describe what I saw.

When I left the theatre, I realised that one of the downsides of going to the theatre alone is that you don’t have anyone to dissect the performance with afterwards. I left Sadler’s Wells feeling like I needed to talk to someone about what I’d just experienced, although I’m not sure what I would have said. I wandered home in a dream-like trance, trying to digest the performance.

All I can say I knew for sure at the end of the show was that I wanted to see it again, and I wanted to be able to understand more kanji, as I think I missed a bit of the meaning. You definitely don’t need to understand Japanese (or French) to enjoy TeZukA, but I think it would increase the meaning of the performance.

Unfortunately, TeZukA was only on until September 10th. I’m hoping it will come back again someday. In the meantime, you can watch a short video clip of the rehearsals on the Sadler’s Wells website here.

(Image source)

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