Astro Boy lost on stage: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui aims high but falls short with ‘TeZukA’

A guy rolling around on stage with a manga comic-book between his toes, trying to read it. TeZukA‘s opening scene is vintage Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui: inventive, virtuoso and funny. One of the next scenes, with groups of dancers imitating calligraphy signs, is equally wonderful. By then it’s obvious that the Belgian choreographer wants to do one of his great heroes justice, by being as creative as possible. But unfortunately he falls short. Watching TeZukA reminded me of a juggler throwing just too many balls in the air.

Recently I interviewed Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui for the newspaper I’m working for and I was impressed by the speed at which his mind seems to operate. It’s racing from one thing to the other, avidly linking different subjects at an amazing tempo, almost losing track of what it was he set out to say. Watching TeZukA made me think of that conversation: it too hops speedily from one scene to the next. You feel the creator’s nimble mind.

But mostly, as other reviewers have pointed out already, you get the feeling that Cherkaoui hasn’t succeeded in really being in command of his subject. Being an avid fan of ‘the father of manga’ Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989) – probably most known for his Astro Boy – he has tried to say it all, with this performance. Every single aspect of Tezuka’s world. Cherkaoui not only tries to tell us Tezuka’s story (biography) and show us some of the protagonists and key aspects of Tezuka’s books, he also tries to link some of this to Japan’s history (World War II, the recent earthquake), and he even elaborates on some of the things (bacteria) in the comic-books. It proves to be too much. Even for a gifted choreographer such as Cherkaoui.

TeZukA is composed of two parts: the first part is mainly devoted to all of that biographical information, in the second part Cherkaoui paints his pictures more freely, in a more imaginative way. But both parts have the same structure: they consist of a series of short scenes. Quite impressive throughout both parts is the use of video. Cherkaoui (and video artist Taiki Ueda) have come up with some really nice ideas: in one scene it looks as if the images on the screen are falling down on a dancer, in another one a dancer shuffles the images as if the screen is an enormous iPad.

But as I said: there’s much more than that. Three musicians are playing Nitin Sawhney‘s score live, there’s a calligrapher sitting on stage too, martial arts are thrown in and parts with a narrator, and huge paper scrolls are unfurling from the ceiling again and again. Sure, there’s a lot to marvel at, but too often you get the feeling that Cherkaoui is somewhat dizzied by all of this, not quite sure anymore of what it is he really wanted to express. And on top of that, during the performance I watched (deSingel, Antwerp) a lot of the group scenes were performed rather sloppily.

Info here. Short YouTube interview here. BBC image slide show here.


2 Responses to “Astro Boy lost on stage: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui aims high but falls short with ‘TeZukA’”

  1. Granted I’m both a Cherkaoui-fan and a manga-fan. Heck, I’m even a Japanophile. So perhaps I did see it with a different set of eyes. How could I not?

    The group scenes were performed sloppily. absolutely! I’d even drop the ‘rather’. But in general I really liked the overall production. Though not necessarily as a ‘dance’ performance. More as a sensory performance mimicking sometimes the hectic feel of the manga, sometimes its inner aesthetic, sometimes the ramble of a narrator who needs to get his story told.

    And had I not opened to the fact it wasn’t just about ‘dance’ anymore I would probably have left the building feeling disappointed. But I didn’t, I enjoyed the incredible media use, the irreproachable live music, and so much more … as with every manga I could have done without some pages, but would still have wanted to read it. (I gave it a solid 7/10)

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