THE small, white figure on stage resembles Charlie Chaplin for a moment. His motions are fluid but wiry, floppy but purposeful, and he's dwarfed by a huge dark stage, making one think of the little tramp disappearing, alone, down a road. Saburo Teshigawara, however, is stomping, shuffling, almost tap dancing through a pile of broken glass. Dressed in white, with matching face and hair, this popular young choreographer from Tokyo isn't going for comedy or pathos - just distance. When he lies in the glass, his remoteness is more disturbing than the shards he keeps picking up in his hands.
Distance - both spatial and emotional - is important to his style, Teshigawara said in an interview after his Boston performances earlier this month. He and the eight other dancers of his post-Butoh Japanese company, Karas, were on a tour that will take them to Canada, Belgium, and England. He explained that he dances more freely if he's unemotional. ``My body is here, and my heart is on the moon,'' he said, looking much more of this world in a gray turtleneck and his natural black hair in a Boston cafe. He also uses physical distance. He tells his dancers to think of the air all around them as they work, and his stage design - a bare stage scattered with aqua rocks and only partly lit - emphasizes a sense of aloneness.
His dance on glass is only part of his evening-long work ``Ishi No-Hana'' (``Garden of Stone'') performed here. He claims he knows how to handle glass so it won't hurt him and says he uses it because ``I want to dance on light. ... People created windows because they need light. Glass, for me, means a fragment of light.''
`ISHI NO-HANA'' presents a series of images as unnervingly poetic as Teshigawara on glass. Unnerving not because of violence or the bodily distortions that characterize Butoh, but because of the dancers' cool self-containment. Dressed in schoolboys' caps and shorts, two men ride bicycles toward a slender, stylish woman, then fall over in unison just before they collide. All are grave, graceful, almost ceremonial. There are many falls. The same stylish woman crosses the stage with two men who take such frequent, elegant nose dives that she seems to be walking a brace of dolphins.
The dancers' command in falling is breathtaking. They rebound as lightly as they hit, and they seem to be able to fall at a variety of speeds. Teshigawara says he was inspired by the legendary Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, who could jump and never seem to come down. He tells his dancers to remember, as they descend, there is distance between them and the floor. Their sense of control makes the evening one of muted surprise, unsettling and intriguing.
A Tokyo newspaper says Teshigawara ``epitomizes the vibrance of the contemporary Tokyo esthetic.'' Unlike most Butoh companies, Karas plays to sellout crowds at home. Teshigawara didn't start dancing until he was in his 20s, giving up a career as a sculptor to study classical ballet for five years. He then put on one-man spectacles, later gathering a company around him.
LIKE his audiences, the people who came to dance with him were interested in the visual arts and music. His sense of the pictorial comes out in the tableaux he creates. A man and woman seated stiffly by a large tape recorder while a schoolgirl balances a large dragonfly on her head have the air of a wacky family portrait.
The schoolgirl is actually Kei Miyata, who was impressed by his solo work early on and worked as his manager. But when he saw her in a dance workshop he gave, he persuaded her to perform, and together they founded Karas.
Untrained in dance before, she is one of the strongest, fleetest members of the company. Onstage, she is everything Teshigawara is not: personable, expressive, even warm as she crouches and sings a childlike nonsense song, beaming at the audience until she abruptly tips over.
``I need her style,'' Teshigawara says. Miyata says he works with the individual dancer's abilities. ``He looks at us and finds good ways for each of the dancers,'' she says.
In the studio he has dancers think as well as dance, and talk to him about what they are doing. Compared with the conventional system, where dancers do a teacher or choreographer's bidding with no interaction, ``we are not lonely in the studio,'' he says. ``Every day I think, `How can I dance?''' he says. ```Which is the best way to go on for our generation?'''