Live arts correspondent Bella Todd on the hottest happenings in the global cultural calendar this week, including the world premiere of a dance piece inspired by Japanese manga legend and Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka, Berlin Festival 2011, and weighty West End turns from Tracey Ullman and Ralph Fiennes.
THE MAIN EVENT: TeZukA
He was the Japanese Walt Disney, the creator of over 700 comics, the man who turned down Stanley Kubrick’s invitation to art direct 2011: A Space Odyssey and conceived his most famous creation, Astro Boy, after being punched in the face by a drunken GI. The life of Japanese Manga artist Osamu Tezuka, who died in 1989, has always been ripe for an artistic retelling. But how much more challenging, and interesting, to attempt to bring the drawings themselves to life on stage.
Premiering at London’s Sadler’s Wells theatre this week, TeZuka is a brand-new dance work inspired by the Manga legend’s phenomenal output, in which the performers’ movements will trace the physical evolution of the drawings – from a line on a blank page, to a single kanji (a Japanese letter), to a fully-formed Manga character. The Manga artform is a specific combination of painting, drawing and calligraphy, and so the creative team behind the show even includes a calligrapher, Japanese video artist Taiki Ueda.
It’s all the creation of Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, who’s no stranger to cultural exchange – previous works for Sadler’s Wells include 2008’s remarkable Sutra, a Kung fu and Tai Chi-inspired collaboration with Turner Prize-winning artist Antony Gormley, performed by 17 monks from China’s Shaolin Temple. His aim there was to reveal the poetry hidden beneath the Bruce Lee-assisted image of Kung fu. And now he wants to do the same for manga.
Just the very fact that this is a dance piece should help dispel the notion that Tezuka is the preside of teenage boys, or that his main innovation as the ‘God of Manga’ was to give his characters, like, really big Bambi eyes. Multi-cultural, gender-bending and preoccupied with human rights, environmentalism and the repercussions of war, Tezuka’s is an emotionally resonant sci-fi universe of androgynous princesses with both male and female hearts (Princess Knight), supernatural surgeons (Black Jack) and, of course, nuclear-powered yet peace and justice-loving robots (Astro Boy). And it was the humanity more than the geeky gadgetry that first attracted Cherkaoui, as a gay kid dealing with his sexuality and his Flemish-Morrocan parentage, to the comics.
That said, you can expect some pulse-racing moves (Kung fu makes a re-appearance courtesy of Shaolin monks Li Bo and Huang Jiahao) from the 10 international dancers, and a live, drum-rich score from Nitin Sawhney. If Cherkaoui’s previous productions are anything to go by, TeZukA is likely to tour far beyond this limited opening run as part of Sadler’s Wells’ Out Of Asia season. Like Astro Boy, this one’s got (rocket-powered) legs.
BEST OF THE REST
- The rather smashing lineup may include Public Enemy, Hercules And Love Affair, Suede, Mogwai, Battles, Pantha Du Prince… hell it’s seemingly all gold here. But Berlin Festival 2011 isn’t just about the music. Running from September 10-11, it also lays on some very interesting performance and urban art in the form of the Art Village, where Maike Gräf will be making sculptures with chainsaws, ‘balloon maestro’ Sean Rooney will be elevating air-filled rubber above the realms of the party entertainer, and graffers including Poet, Nomad and 44Flavours will be commemorating the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall by decorating 50 individual pieces.
- Tracey Ullman, the British actress, comedian and singer turned US TV star who broke The Simpsons via her massively successful Eighties series The Tracey Ullman Show, is returning to the UK stage for the first time in twenty years this week. She’s playing the school teacher lead in My City, which is also award-winning director and screenwriter Stephen Poliakoff’s first play in over a decade, and has its world premiere at London’s Almeida Theatre from 8 September to 5 November.
- It’s the season for star theatrical turns, and this week also sees Ralph Fiennes take on his first Shakespearean stage role in almost a decade in The Tempest at London’s Theatre Royal Haymarket. Now best known for playing Voldemort in the Harry Potter films, Fiennes will be wielding his magical powers once more as Shakespeare’s famously autobiographically charged magician, Prospero.