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Ageless Deliberations in Space

Eiko & Koma: Retrospective Project I: Regeneration, REDCAT, March 3 and 5, 2011 –


Raven, performed at Danspace in 2010

The singular duo Eiko & Koma returned to Los Angeles for the first segment of their three-year retrospective based on 40 years of performing together, which have included many honors, grants, collaborations, and documentations. This Project I features one work each from 1976, 1984, and 2010. I attended two of their five performances at REDCAT.

The newest of the three works, Raven, established the unwavering grim tone and largo tempo for the evening. Eiko & Koma build and modulate tension through magnified examinations of movement. While they do eventually arrive at new locations or orientations, it is the protracted journey that conveys their unique perspective as dancers. Eiko begins Raven alone, emerging over many minutes from an imaginary egg. Her calibrated control over her body extends even to her toes, which opened almost identically in both performances after her foot “cracked” the shell. As she experiences her initially clumsy, outer-shell new life, learning about her feather bed and about locomotion, Koma enters amid the sounds of tribal drumming and chanting. Koma moves with focus, but it’s not clear what he’s representing: another, older bird? A human who trains them? A creator being? Twice she drapes herself over his back; they then roll over and are separated. As the lights dim to complete darkness, we see her twitching.

Night Tide was their first work that featured complete nudity, which is a fact that shouldn’t matter, but it does give one the chance to present their rationale for being unclothed: Eiko has said that fish and stones are naked–“why not us?” And one can also discuss their sublime 60-year-old bodies. Eiko’s form is compact, girl-like, a dynamic fluid human sculpture. Her attention to her movements demands our attention–how could we not want to watch her body respond to her instructions? Koma is sturdy and muscular, broad-chested and tree-like. Their contrasts are compelling and sometimes arresting, such as when Eiko curls up in a cobra pose toward Koma, who has knelt forward, offering his neck for her arms to wrap around. The simple beauty of this elongated moment is almost healing.

After seeing the performance a second time, I noted the precision with which certain movements were replicated while other phrases were not rigidly copied. The duo convey a sense of inventing each movement: not improvising, but discovering each one, then executing it.

When they started performing in the 1970s, they called every performance White Dance. The version featured here is a distillation of an evening-length version from 2009. The sometimes-intrusive music is the anonymous medieval “Agincourt Carol” and a movement from J. S. Bach’s Keyboard Concerto Number 5. But there are also extended silences, just as there are extended periods during which we can appreciate the range that exists in the barely perceptible motion spectrum: there’s slow, and there’s really slow, and there’s just plain impossibly slow. We become aware that there is no such state as complete motionlessness, only minute slivers of degrees of movement.

White Dance

White Dance (Revival)

The comprehensive E&K web site includes full-length videos of all the tour works. What must be conveyed here is the sense of their apparently limitless devotion to their self-described “delicious movement.” One of the videos on their web site is actually presented at double speed and its unfolding still brings to mind melting ice. And while they never studied formal Japanese dance, their mask-like expressions and sustained stillnesses certainly echo exposure to the Butoh style. Watching the videos does not fairly represent either of these qualities as well as being present at a live performance.

My favorite moment both nights came when they saw us, not through their sometimes tortured existential expressions, but at the end of the last work, after they had left the stage and returned to our applause. They stepped patiently among the several dozen potatoes that Koma had dropped from two sacks earlier in the work. After they reached the center of the stage and faced us, their eyes were full of respect for us, mirroring ours for them. Koma placed his hands on his thighs and the performers took deep, patient, humble bows, as though finding out about bows for the first time. This communication suggests that Eiko and Koma know of Whitman’s assertion that great poets need great audiences. We felt ennobled by their acknowledgement of our witnessing their mature commitment to a unique vision of dance.

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