Photo: Hugo Glendinning / Esplanade
Anime today can be described as having grown up. It’s been around nearly a century, during which time it has evolved through various stages of experimentation and development. The man most responsible for shaping anime’s signature style is the late Osamu Tezuka. A prolific manga (or comic) artist, animator and producer from Japan, he is venerated as the ‘Godfather of Anime’.
During the primitive phase of his career in the 1960s, Tezuka perpetually drew inspiration from his American counterpart, Walt Disney. At the same time, Tezuka developed a distinct style of cartooning and animation, which he showcased in his original productions: ‘Astro Boy’, ‘Black Jack’, ‘Princess Knight’, ‘Phoenix’ and ‘Kimba the White Lion’.
His fantastical characters and the colourful stories that revolved around them were not just adored by fans in Japan. After the 1980s, anime productions were increasingly adapted overseas, and people from all around the globe started to appreciate Tezuka’s creations. One of those people was—and still is—Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, a renowned choreographer from Belgium. As a matter of fact, the comics and animations had such a profound impact on his childhood, Cherkaoui decided to create ‘TeZukA’; an intriguing multimedia production that pays tribute to the Japanese pop culture icon.
“His work feels almost prophetic, with images of a ‘future’ that has now become the present. He created a real universe which I felt was worth exploring and sharing with a dance audience,” Cherkaoui explained.
According to the half-Moroccan choreographer who was raised in Europe, Tezuka’s body of work transcends racial and cultural boundaries.
“Tezuka lived a life that was filled with very specific contrasts; that made him a very empathetic person. I feel like he could connect with any human being, which in a time where we are mostly behaving in a very tribal, individualistic and disconnected way is a good value and trait to be reminded of,” Cherkaoui enthused.
As the show focuses on connecting Tezuka’s complex upbringing and education to his art in his adult life, a considerable amount of pre-production research had to be done. “I met his son and daughter, as well as the people who had known and worked with him at Tezuka Productions. I also talked to the wonderful Helen McCarthy, an amazing lady who studied his whole oeuvre,” he elaborated.
Upon gaining a more in-depth understanding of who Tezuka was as a person, the biggest artistic challenge for Cherkaoui was presenting the rich, multi-layered content aesthetically to the audience. To achieve that, the choreographer adopted a cross-disciplinary approach.
“I wanted to choreograph the way ink could move on paper; this was only possible through working with animation. I collaborated with Taiki Ueda, a Japanese artist who also knows Tezuka’s work very well, and it was a pleasure sharing and filling the stage with Ueda’s imagery. As for the dancers, it was a challenge for them to react to the projections; but, it got more and more exciting as we got better at it,” Cherkaoui shared.
As visually captivating as the theatrical production promises to be, audience turnout might still be a concern, especially when one considers how niche the anime market is. Cherkaoui, however, remains unfazed and firmly states, “By coming to ‘TeZukA’, one could discover anime or manga through their love for dance, theatre, movement or music. I think it is always possible to discover one art form through your passion for another one. At the end of the day, these are stories about human beings about ourselves. It is always nice to experience another perspective on life; it makes you feel and think differently.”