The Japanese Walt Disney

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui presents ‘TeZukA,’ inspired by famed Manga artist Osamu Tezuka.

Tezuka (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Translation is a term that can be used for a number of activities.
Most commonly, translation refers to language; however, it can also be used to describe the transference of content from one media to another. For many artists, in particular those who seek inspiration among their peers, this action is often the punchline in a creative process.
How does one translate the scrawlings of a famous painter into song or movement? For Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, translation was a vital notion in the creation of his newest work, TeZukA. Drawing from the drawings of animation legend Osamu Tezuka, who is most well-known for the character Astro Boy, TeZukA is a stage interpretation of manga (a style of Japanese animation).
Larbi will return to Israel this month for a five-performance engagement of TeZukA at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center. Last year, he visited TAPAC with Sutra, an evening-length piece boasting a large cast of Shaolin monks. Larbi’s visit will kick of the 2012-2013 season at TAPAC, which will include performances by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Beijing Dance Theater and the Dance Theater of Harlem.
TeZukA was originally commissioned by London-based theater and organization Sadler’s Wells, where Larbi is an associate artist. The cast includes nine dancers, one actor, three musicians and two calligraphers.
In addition, video art by Taika Ueda helps to draw the audiences into the world of TeZukA.
The piece, like its namesake, is full of surprises. Tezuka the artist was an enigmatic and awe-inspiring member of Japanese society. A certified medical doctor and pianist, Tezuka forewent the practice of medicine to pursue his artistic passions. During nearly four decades of creation, Tezuka imbued Japanese society with several iconic characters and is widely considered the godfather of Anime. He is also lovingly referred to as the Walt Disney of Japan.
Though Tezuka’s life work is filled with lovable characters, his underlying message was often sharply critical of society. Many references to World War II found their way onto Tezuka’s pages, as well as messages about Japan’s social isolation from the rest of the globe. In translating Tezuka to live performance, Larbi was loyal to this element as much as the colorful, joyous beings.
While TeZukA bears many of Larbi’s telltale signatures, it also offers a glimpse into a sector of the artist’s imagination yet to be revealed. There is always a certain dash of magic to Larbi’s machinations, be it due to the presence on stage of 50 large wooden boxes or film star Juliette Binoche. TeZukA is no exception to this rule. The enormous screens that serve as a backdrop inject Ueda’s video art straight into the heart of the action, at times dwarfing the performers, at others supporting them.
As always, the physicality of Larbi’s dancers, namely Damien Jalet, is stunning in TeZukA. Where other dancers’ bodies betray effort while weaving down and up from the floor, Larbi’s performers glide with ninja-esque grace as if dancing the entire piece underwater. There are no awkward moments to be found here, only breathtaking accuracy and sheer dynamic power. These instances are interspersed with text, which help to fill in the blanks in Larbi’s complex composition of ideas.
In his previous works, such as Sutra or Myth, Larbi presented an intense, if not hypnotic, tone on stage. Often, the trance-like state created by Larbi’s works is siphoned by his musical choices. For TeZukA, Larbi has returned to his longtime collaborator, Nitin Sawney, but this meeting has produced a slightly lighter sensibility.
Three musicians, who control the atmosphere throughout the work, play Sawney’s brilliant score.
TeZukA will run at TAPAC from September 20-24. For tickets, visit