Issue 008 Rihoko Sato
Release your new voice
The miraculous dancer Rihoko Sato is the muse and longtime collaborator to Saburo Teshigawara, a choreographic genius, the only Japanese choreographer who created 3 works to the Paris Opera Ballet, who is critically acclaimed around the world with his creative and innovative works, and tours extensively throughout Europe/US for over 6 months each year. Sato also works as Teshigawara’s assistant repetitor, and as a dancer at Teshigawara’s troupe KARAS she is one of a kind, sometimes sharp as a knife with break-neck speed, and other times ethereal, floating in the space and melting into the air. Her dancing is a revelation, once looking at her performance leaves an everlasting feeling.
Recently, Sato is also performing as a solo artist and made her choreographic debut with “Izumi (spring)” this year. Although her chorography apparently has Teshigawara’s influence, she shows some expression that had never seems to have appeared in Teshigawa’s works, with a poetic and modern touch, and since then she seems to have gained a new voice. “Izumi” has already had its Paris appearance and was praised by the local critics, which gave her confidence to further develop her choreographic skills.
Sato spent her childhood in England and the United States with her family, and is fluent in English, as well as studying Spanish and linguistics at university, thus enabling her to work globally, crossing borders without barriers. During her over 20 year collaboration with Teshigawara, her physicality has grown even stronger; her expression became more polished with unbelievable virtuosity, flexibility and scale. We visited her at KARAS APPARATUS, the experimental space for Teshigawara and KARAS to learn about her secrets.
A Travelling Life without a Home
“As a child, I didn’t have much difficulty getting used to life in the UK, but I was required some effort when I returned to Japan, as I was not good at speaking Japanese then, and there were more things to do in Japanese elementary schools. I had been moving a lot in my life so I no longer have a sense of home, it is not clear where I should return and I have a feeling that this travelling life will continue till the end. But I have a very strong impression of life in the UK, maybe because it was my childhood which had much sensitivity.”
“The people in England were very good in finding one’s pros, and they encouraged children to try their talent. I started gymnastics while I was there, because I was told I was good in the school gymnastic class. It was a very good environment for me. It was not so difficult to return to Japan after living in UK, but then I had to move to US which were not a place for me.”
Creating in Cuba, A Revelation
Last year, Teshigawara and Sato were invited to Cuba on a project by The Japan Foundation commemorating the 120th anniversary of immigration from Japan to Cuba. They created a new work for Acosta Danza, led by former Royal Ballet principal and international star Carlos Acosta, and also danced their duet work “Lost in Dance” on the company’s program. It was an eye-opening experience for both of them.
“I could speak a little Spanish during my stay in Cuba, the Cuban Spanish was a little different from what I learnt in university but I enjoyed the experience. Although I spend about 6 months each year outside Japan, I rarely have the time to look around the local towns. I would be lucky to have one day off while performing overseas, but I could enjoy the culture while creating and staying for quite a long period in Cuba.”
“I am accustomed to European culture, but these days everywhere looks quite the same and there are fewer characteristics in each country. Cuba is an entirely different place, where the common sense I had does not make sense. It was my first experience since my youth to find that there are people with entirely different values and thoughts, and it was fun to find out that. Cuba is still fairly closed so their culture and society have been kept in their original form.”
“The Cuban dancers have amazing physicality. They are classically trained and have strong bodies, making them very beautiful dancers. Classically trained dancers often could not relax and have stress in their body, but once they began to understand, they can mold into Teshigawara’s method, by letting their body loose, and keeping their original virtuosity. The creation process in Cuba was less than a month, but it was an in-depth experience and the good point was that the dancers were rehearsing all day with this creation, and concentrating on it, which was very valuable and enabling them to give great results.”
I Enjoy Meeting Bodies that I Haven’t Discovered
Sato has been working as an assistant choreographer to Teshigawara, and she has been coaching many dancers in numerous companies such as Paris Opera Ballet and Acosta Danza his repertoire as a ballet mistress. Also, as a choreographer, she herself has created a new work “Traces” for the Italian dance company Aterballetto. Where does she find joy while she coaches dancers?
“When I created my own work to Alterballetto, I was able to make the dancers concentrate on the creation during the first period. Before starting to give them choreography, I usually create the common understandable elements such as how to make use of your body and how to feel it. Once they became capable of understanding them, the dancers can move and gradually make movements without being given shapes. I can create from their movements. It is better to do so instead of me giving the previously created movements, because we can make use of the characteristics of their body, and by having a common method the dancers can understand deeper and the creation process will be smoother.”
“Creation depends on the body and nature of each dancer. When I reflect on creating with Teshigawara, we use the same method each time but the result depends on each dancer. It is really fun to discover bodies that I haven’t met before, to see the process of transforming their bodies from the start. Even the faces of the dancers change, when they begin to feel with their own body, progressing from the process of just learning. When they are concentrating from the inside, enjoying themselves and fulfilling their inner self, their physiques and faces are so beautiful and it makes me so happy. Of course the final outcome is important but I find the process more interesting.”
Shaping My Body by Trying to Move with My Own Body
Watching Rihoko Sato dance, is a sensational experience that could not be forgotten. Her spiral turning brought by her long lithe arms and legs leave an afterimage and turns into a whirlwind of light. Her sense of floating without gravity creates an ethereal, otherworldly atmosphere. Her versatility is incredible; in “Lost in Dance” she is literally losing herself, pushing herself to the limit dancing full throttle to the strong beating music. There is no dancer like her in the world. As a versatile dancer, she exists on stage as many dramatic heroines as well, “Hari” the copy image of the astronaut’s dead wife in “Solaris”, the elegant and proud Lady Nastasha from Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot”, the star-crossed lover Isolde from “Tristan and Isolde” to name a few. Sato has never been trained in classical ballet, and started to dance after she entered university, which is regarded a late start but she managed to shape her mind-blowing virtuoso style. What were her secrets?
“I do not have ideal muscles; I am not really strong enough and I have no basic ballet training. When I started to learn Teshigawara’s method I could not move at all, but my body was molded by searching how to dance with my own body, and I was trying to find my way to dance. I would never been able to dance without that. I am not really athletic, and although I had experience in gymnastics, that only made me a little flexible. What I am good at is to feel and move with my nerves, rather than becoming athletic by exercising. I was not aware when my body and dancing transformed, but little by little, from a certain period I became able to feel consciously something, and became able to move more easily. It became a joy and that was happening without me noticing. Each day the progress was tiny, but it was a steady accumulation of effort.”
“Now I dance and create on my own. My body itself has not changed, but my awareness and challenge has changed. Seeing someone is about seeing myself, and I now have to make decisions without Teshigawara. When I am creating in a foreign country on my own, sometimes it is painful to watch my body, as I could see clearly what is wrong with it or having some habit which is not good, and feel doubtful. I can’t be distracted so I had to start all over again and try to rehearse on my own. It is a never ending struggle.”
Choreography is To Pass On What I Felt by Seeing Dancers
Sato’s choreographic debut received rave reviews, and critics and the audience praised the quality of her choreography, her sensitive and thoughtful world and some elements that Teshigawara did not have surprised them. It seemed that Sato has now gained a new voice within her dancing as well.
“I didn’t think about choreographing myself. I didn’t think about it because I have been searching and finding so many things through dancing and that is a never ending process, so being a dancer was enough for me. But Teshigawara kept telling me that creating is a totally different experience so it would be good to try it one day. I am not sure I have realized the true meaning of choreography, but I think it would be thrilling to do both. In other countries, it is regarded that dancers switch their careers to choreography at a certain age, but I am in love with dancing so for me, choreography is a way to pursue dancing in a different way. When I am participating in a work as a dancer, I do have the sense of creating work, dance but I am looking forward to see what influence will come to my dancing and myself by creating works on my own. “
“Teshigawara has been encouraging me to try choreography, but I was always replying I don’t think I want to do it now. However, in these few years, I was lucky enough to receive requests for my creation from others, and coincidently I had some opportunity for it. I felt so blessed that I had a request from overseas before even creating my first work, because they regarded that my dancing itself looked as if I was creating dance. They asked me to pass on my movements to their dancers. I love sharing dance and telling the dancers what I felt after watching dance rather than choreographing, and I thought I could find something though it so I answered yes.”
“Creating works is of course very different from creating my own movement and coaching dancers. I love watching dancers and I teach them, but the objective is different. This time I did not know where I was heading. When Teshigawara is creating, I also did not know where we are aiming towards so I was concentrating on looking at the dancers and improving the dancers. I had no guidance what will happen when I create, and what will come out, which was quite exciting for me. This could not be understood without experiencing, but I enjoyed the process.”
Where from did Sato’s sensitivity, quite different from Teshigawara’s come out?
“Teshigawara is a huge influence; he was my only teacher in dance so I cannot deny it. But he does say that our dancing, even though it is based on the same method, is “still different”. He enjoys this fact and he often says “Why are we so different” when we are rehearsing. When I was creating my own work, I was thinking more about this difference, what makes us different? Perhaps this is a result of my own original senses?”
My Favorite Works are born in KARAS APPARATUS
KARAS APPARATUS, Teshigawara’s experimental space has just commemorated its 6th anniversary this summer. Here, the series of performances called Update Dance, which are spectacles of Teshigawara’s new works, performed 8 days and updated every day. Sometimes there are more than 90 performances a year here, which is rare for an independent dance artist in Japan. In an intimate small space where the audience can hear the breathing and the heartbeats of the artist, an experience of feeling and seeing world-class artists at an affordable price is such a luxurious and rare one. There are even works that are born here and eventually went on tour to London, Paris, Italy and Moscow to name a few.
“Before we created KARAS APPARATUS, we did not have much opportunity to dance as often as now in our country. We did tour extensively overseas, but we even had only one performance annually in Japan. We have to take time to prepare for large works, but after we had KARAS APPARATUS we became able to have more new works and performances, and as a result we could create better works and improve our performances. I love creating and dancing here, because it can have perfect darkness that evokes inspiration. We are so lucky to have this creating and performing space.”
After the performances at KARAS APPARATUS, Teshigawara and Sato holds post performance talks on stage, and sends off the audience with a smile and sometimes chats with them. Some of the audience are surprised that Teshigwara, a world choreographic giant with charisma talks with a hilarious sense of humor, and the sharp, cool imaged Sato speaks with a gentle, soft voice.
“Entering KARAS APPARATUS is like gradually leaving the outside world and therefore it is the best place to face with dance. I would love to stay there every day, and in fact I spend most of my time there when I am in Japan. I feel the audience concentrating when I dance; I feel their existence hiding in the dark. They understand that there are different qualities in dance, and in works like “Shizuka” which is a completely silent piece with no music, the silence is made by the audience. I could feel the intensity of the audience and the atmosphere was very tense. I found this place on the internet by coincidence, and because we now have here, we now have a lot of opportunities to dance, in our home country which makes me so happy.”
“When we are rehearsing, there are many times that a fabulous moment has given birth, but if we are not creating at that time, that moment is gone. It is difficult to put the thing that happened just now into a work if we only have a rehearsal studio. It is when we have a place that we can perform, and there are people who come to see the show that a dance piece can happen. For us performers, it is essential and a valuable experience to actually perform on stage in performances.”
“And we could see the faces and voices of the audience for the first time by having this venue. At first, the audience seemed nervous to see us sending them off after the performance, but nowadays the regular guests can talk to us and tell us how they felt about, and it is so nice that we can communicate with them. I had never imagined of myself speaking with a microphone on stage after the performance.”
Pulling Myself Together by Dance and Creation
“Dance is not everything in my life, but creating might be my life in a way. But I am facing dance as seeing various things in my everyday life. When I was young, I had this strong feeling those things inside me existed were falling apart. What I wished to do and the reality of life did not coincide, some things were missing and some were too much. But now I have dance and this place, I have this feeling of the pieces inside me fitting in like a puzzle.”
“I discuss often with Teshigawara about the things that inspire us, such as literature and music, and share those thoughts as a hobby too. When I started to dance I didn’t have the idea that the things I love and treasure would become a dance.”
“By having KARAS APPARATUS, I am now feeling the many possibilities of dance. Such as create a dance from words and give birth to words by dance. Dance is our language but it is so inspiring that we can meet many themes from that language. Not only just new things, but there are many things that I love or felt some electricity and exist in my heart unchanged, and then meet with them again with fresh feelings. Seeing what I treasure with a fresh eye or with a different viewpoint is such a rich experience for me.”
“There are some themes that I want to create into a dance. I am still searching how to create it, but I want to try in many ways how to create a work with what I get attracted or have interest. I do share much interest with Teshigawara, but I have to find my way different from him because of that. I will try to search beyond my originality and interest.”
Finding My Own Words Through Dance, Open Myself.
Where is Rihoko Sato, at the golden age of her career as a dancer and creator heading to?
“I don’t think particularly that I want to do something new, but I want to search what is beyond what I am doing now, not just keeping up with my form. We didn’t have this KARAS APPARATUS till 6 years ago, but now it exists as it is our home place, and we are thinking what we can do with what we have. We didn’t have any idea that the works that were born here would be performed extensively in Europe when we started here. Now, the producers and curators of theatres outside Japan visit here and propose us to have our works and performances in their theatre. Also we have a lot of guests in the audience from overseas, which we did not expect. This would always be where we started.”
“I would like to see things making form that I could not make into words. I would love to meet unexpected things, as well as the things that I treasure. I want to meet things outside my interest. Dance is not a solitary art, it exists with the things surrounding it, and so I would like to explore the joy of finding something outside me.”
“After starting to dance, I gained the ability of finding out words and spotting them, from things not related to dance. I began to turn things into words, even the things that could not be expressed in words, and began to wish to speak out more. Dance is not just dancing, but to open up myself and cast off my skin. By using my body, the things that have not changed if I had not met dance began to open and expand, and then I try to find my own words, and that also gives influence to my dancing.”
“I didn’t become a dancer by seeing dance and wanting to be one. I thought I will start dancing even before I knew about and see dance. My encounter with Teshigawara’s work gave me the opportunity to go to his workshop, because it was the first ever dance that I liked. That gave me the chance to meet with my body for the first time and be conscious with it; it was my encounter with dance. At first, I felt I was so heavy and exhausted and could not move at all, but gradually I began to enjoy it. The heaviness and the stiffness was the entrance to new senses, and I began to enjoy that feeling. Then I began to get more control over my body, and began to gain my own words. I don’t really know much about other styles of dance, but I think I was able to open myself up by continuing to pursue one thing for a long time. No one could teach me what my body is, but I could learn that by rehearsing Teshigawara’s method. That is why I could dance with my own voice.”
By gaining a new weapon called choreography, Rihoko Sato will evolve further as a divine, one and only artist, the muse of our generation with her other-worldly stage presence. But at the same time, she possesses an honest, down to earth character with feminine charm and sensitivity.
PHOTOGRAPHER/VIDEOGRAPHER: Yumiko Inoue
HAIR AND MAKEUP: ITSUKI at UM
INTERVIEWER/TRANSLATOR: Naomi Mori
SPECIAL THANKS : KARAS
Rihoko Sato, Choreographer and Dancer
Rihoko Sato studied gymnastics in England and the United States, where she lived until age 15. Having participated in KARAS’ workshops in 1995, she joined the group in 1996.
Since then, she has performed in all group works, and also works as the artistic assistant to Saburo Teshigawara in all his creative activities. She is acclaimed internationally, as one of the main figures in Teshigawara’s works. In 2009 she presented her first solo dance SHE directed by Teshigawara, leaving a striking and emotional impression. Her exceptionally sensitive body and nerves create a wide range of dynamism, from melting fragility to sharp intensity, opening a new dimension for physical expression.
Rihoko Sato also assisted with KARAS’ education project S.T.E.P. and worked as dance mistress for Teshigawara’s commissioned works for other ballet companies. She received the Best Dancer Award for her duet with Vaclav Kunes in Scream and Whisper at Les Étoiles de Ballet2000 Awards in 2005 in Cannes, France, the Japan Dance Forum award for 2007, the Forty edition of the Premio Positano “Leonide Massine” Per la Danza 2012 and most recently the Japan dance critic new face award (2016).The Minister of Education,Culture,Sports,Science and Technology’s Art Encouragement Prize[of dance](2018)