When I go to The Coronet there’s always really interesting programming. It says a lot about the artistic vision and use of the space: the medium size venue means they don’t have to do ‘in ya face’ commercial style productions to get the numbers in and fill a vast stage. The calibre of work can come first. Refreshing and rare.
Enter the space, Rihoko Sato. The ‘choreographer as performer’ situation is never a hard sell for me. There’s something about the embodied creativity you don’t get elsewhere: I made this. I’m doing it. And the promo video doing the rounds only echoes the aforementioned sentiment.
Sato has been a long-time collaborator of Japanese choreographer Saburo Teshigawara. Teshigawara opened his company KARAS in 1995/96 and Sato was there from the beginning. Though she isn’t short of recognition as an individual performer in her own right, with Forest of Confession (2022) being her third solo work.
The short run at The Coronet is the UK premiere and promises to explore the “beauty and brutality of nature” using movement, sound, and voice. Poetry even.
Sato is responsible for all aspects… “Choreography, Text, Voice, Music Edit / Composition, Costume & Lighting Concept”. However, the programme also suggests collaboration, acknowledging Teshigawara for the lighting and Mie Kawamura for ‘Wardrobe’ – I’d politely like to suggest Tomo Koizumi as a possible future collaborator for the attire. Regarding Teshigawara’s lights, they’re definitely a big part of the piece’s overall success, though the work itself wouldn’t exist at all without Sato, and one categorically feels in the presence of someone, or rather something quite profound when she inhabits the space.
I wondered throughout the piece, how much of this is autobiographical. The being, creature, spirit that Sato has created seems to have a clear dichotomy: the tormented expressionist, and the melancholy outsider. Sato executes both with extreme skill and depth, this being her general vibe. How long does it take to create a 55-minute solo of such depth? A complete career to date one imagines. And who is the character Sato presents? Part (Act 2) Giselle, Miss Havisham and Gaia.
In Forest of Confession, Sato creates an abundant world of ambience, supported by idiosyncratic lighting design, score creation, and choreography.
The lighting design is both atmospheric and structural. Green hues create a naturalistic environment, with diagonal shafts and pools of light defining the space into many different locations. Sato’s character uses the opportunities differently, sometimes remaining on the edges, at other times bathing within.
The score is eclectic. Sato is not afraid to use established, operatic and chamber music. And why stop there? She deconstructs and plays, of course. At times it feels like the vinyl is jumping, taking us back to the beginning, crossing the phrase, warping the structure, with aspects of Reich and Anderson coming across fervently. Elsewhere we hear breathing, wailing, falling rocks, cracking bones, and narrative poetry in both English and Japanese. Narrative yes, but not always linear. I loved hearing the Japanese iteration – such a musical, articulate language.
To the dance. Can one describe Satoism? Is it necessary? Helpful? Well, it certainly reconfirms the initial point discussing embodied creativity. The movement is original and engaging, and not improvised (I think), reading as highly choreographed, articulated abandon. Sato has the capability of being simultaneously light and weighted when she moves (in a classic jazz shoe), and it’s quite something to observe. The expressionist communicates through thrashing, with phrases devised of convulsions, jerks, focused reaching – almost in despair – and superlative ‘hairography’ as an unquestionable by-product. The outsider communicates in a totally different way, generally at a slow, adagio speed, and with movement that seems submerged in water. Sato is working against a form of invisible pressure as she contemplates her body’s perpetual exploration of the space.
A lot of the dance action is led by the head, initially through weight and swing, and then consequential directional flow. Elsewhere we see exploration and manipulation of the spine, and arm movement that challenges the outer realms of the kinesphere. Sato also covers space well and most importantly, with purpose. No pointless running nowhere for no reason – a contemporary trend that many have fallen victim to. In other moments we get to savour her facial expression and eye focus in passages of thoughtful suspension, the level of communicated commitment something to revel in.
All in all. If you enjoy art, go and see this work. I was so engaged and intrigued that I barely blinked throughout. It’s the work of a… dare I say… genius? If that’s a little OTT, she’s definitely a major artist who is creating for her life, dancing for her life, and communicating for her life. Don’t. Miss. Out.
Matthew Paluch was awarded a place at The Royal Ballet School in 1990 where he graduated in 1997. His first four years as a professional dancer were spent working with London City Ballet, Scottish Ballet, K-Ballet and English National Ballet, becoming a full-time member of ENB until leaving in 2006.
Matthew graduated from the Royal Academy of Dance, Professional Dancers’ Teaching Diploma in 2007, and was fomerly on faculty at The Royal Ballet School. He completed his Masters in Ballet Studies at Roehampton University in 2011 and has been a freelance writer since 2010. He is a Trustee (2021) of the Royal Academy of Dance and works in the Law Sector.