Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot was published in 1864 [in a series of installments naturally] and is frequently held up as one of the artistic high points of the Russian literary boom of the 19th century. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have not read The Idiot, so I deemed it best to read a quick summary before sitting down to famed Japanese dance artist Saburo Teshigawara’s experimental adaptation. It turns out I needn’t have bothered. Teshigawara has gone on record with the fact that adapting the novel into an hour-long vocal-less dance piece for two is functionally impossible but ‘this impossibility has been key to approach and create something completely new’.
Teshigawara’s ‘completely new’ take on The Idiot begins with the Coronet’s distressed grandeur soaked in shadow, buttery yellow lights flicker over the stage like a fusion between a passing train and Klute. Teshigawara plays the innocent Prince Myshkin, the eponymous Idiot, clad in a simple black and white suit, mirroring his worldview. The 65 year old dancer [who also directed and choreographed the production] has a deeply impressive control over his physicality. In turns glacially slow and epileptically frenzied, his body at times seems to be a marionette jerking out movements that look impossible for the human frame to achieve. The soundtrack is a distorted and frankly nightmarish collage: blast of static damaged bossanova, throbbing diseased jungle and a Frankensteinish take on Shostakovich’s Symphony 2 that recreates the great composers waltz as an auditory purgatory; it’s challenging, uncompromising stuff.
Still it’s hard to say it doesn’t mesh with Teshigawara’s vision, it’s only about halfway through that we achieve something that fits the mainstream idea of dance. This is nod to relative normalcy is engendered by the presence of Rihoko Sato’s Filippovna. Myshkin’s unworthy love interest, fittingly clad in vampiric flowing black satin, orbits the entranced Teshigawara like a binary star. The two of them ecstatically swoop around each other with ever increasing mania, but never quite touch. They are ships in the night, wreathed in flame and sinking on an endless black sea. Unfortunately, it’s here that things get a bit more confusing. Myshkin struggles to put his coat on for what feels like an eternity and then a hitherto unseen third dancer dressed in a legitimately unnerving rat costume runs on and steals the coat. Perhaps this was just slightly over my head, or something you need to be familiar with the source material to really grok, but alas it just didn’t really land for me. At its best The Idiot plunges you into the kind of hauntological space that David Lynch dances in, but during sequences like this it ossifies into impenetrability.
This is Teshigawara’s first UK performance in over eight years and he clearly feels no compulsion to reach across the aisle on his return. This is definitely, unarguably, not for everyone. However on the night I saw it Teshigawara’s unblinking commitment to his oblique artistic goals paid off with a seemingly endless standing ovation. Cicero once described the lyrical sparseness of Julius Caesar’s Commentaries as bare manikins which readers thread their own vision around: entire worlds blooming from the leafless branches of Caesar’s terse sentences. In many ways this non-adapted adaptation is similar, Teshigawara has built his own Idiot out of coiled smoke, and it’s down to the individual audience member what shapes they see within it.
The Idiot is showing until March 30th get tickets here
Address: 103 Notting Hill Gate, Kensington, London W11 3LB