Eiko and Koma
September 14 and 15, 2011
Kogod Theatre, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
University of Maryland, College Park, Md.
By Lisa Traiger
© Copyright 2011 by Lisa Traiger
Eiko and Koma choreograph at the intersection between earth and sky. They dance of earth and air, fire and water, animal and avian, and the elemental lifeforce: birth, death, sex and regeneration. Their dances reflect a vision of the world that is at once timeless and ageless, primal and new agey. The husband and wife duo -- artistic partners for nearly four decades -– returned to the Clarice Smith PAC for the first of three visits this season as part of a year-long creative residency, which includes both a retrospective of their collaboration on their singular choreographic vision and a new work to be made with contemporary music experimentalists the Kronos Quartet.
Aptly titled “Regeneration,” the duo’s first visit this season looks backward on their career-defining artistic output, beginning with last year’s “Raven,” and moving back in time to one of their earliest efforts, “White Dance,” from 1976. The four-decade span sheds light on the duo’s remarkable ability to captivate attentive dance goers with their distinctive manner of capturing the primal and most elemental nature of humanity and presenting it in living, breathing sculptural, painterly and poetic terms. Their bodies painted a chalky white, recalling the influence of Japanese butoh masters Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno, Eiko and Koma become one with whatever and wherever they are performing. At the Smith Center, they swath the black box stage in a white canvas, seared with burn marks and strewn with black feathers and dried grass. They have also adventurously performed outdoors in a customized wagon-like caravan, at the base of an imposing canopy of a large oak tree, in a river, in snow and in a church cemetery, among other locales.
“Raven” begins in quietude. Pueblo-influenced composer Robert Mirabal’s drum-centered score, drawn from his original work with the duo on their 1991 piece “Land,” sets the work’s pace, as first Eiko, a thin slip of a woman, stretches and flexes from a fetal position. At one point she uncurls her toes one at a time, like a baby splaying her fingers. Later Koma enters, his movement more erratic and full bodied when played against Eiko’s finely porcelained shapes. The dance, though shortened to 25 minutes for this retrospective evening, feels like an incantatory chant, an appeasement to the gods and nature danced through the wildness of Koma’s stomps and forceful reaches skyward, and Eiko’s more restrained entreaties to a gentler earth mother.
“Night Tide,” a briefer duet from 1984, follows and becomes a paean to the beauty of the body. Danced without clothes, their bodies starkly white becoming slow moving sculptures, amplifying their joints and muscles, flexed elbows and splayed toes, arched backs and bared buttocks. The sensuality here sings of the body beautiful in its everyday grace, magnified by the languorous pauses and meditative repose they attain in performance.
“White Dance” is the first work the pair performed in the United States and it reflects most vividly their early butoh training. The program’s excerpt of the 1976 work uses baroque music -- Bach’s Concerto for Harpsichord No 5 in F Minor and an Agincourt Carol – to oddly unusual effect. There’s Koma prancing around the same white canvas, kimono-clad, a look of pleasant tom-foolery on his face. At one point he hefts out and spills a bag of potatoes. It's light and comical and recalls that the oft-assumed apocalyptic nature of butoh was just one side of the Japanese, post-Hiroshima dance form. Butoh also has its playful, absurd side and that's where this dance has its roots. Later Eiko, wrapped in a printed kimono, becomes one with the backdrop, a moving image of silken threads woven into paisleys of butterflies and flowers. She nearly emanates a perfume in the delicate manner that she wafts gently across the scrim of two dimensional multicolored art, her body becoming one with the two dimensions.
There’s a boldness and uncompromising steadfastness knitted into the way Eiko and Koma fearlessly approach their movement projects. They never doubt the integrity of their bodies to speak volumes about life. In slowing down and living in the moment, they teach us lessons of profundity that are sorely needed in a world encumbered by the multitasking demands of technology. At a point in their lives when most dancers have long left the stage for more forgiving pursuits, Eiko and Koma create work that is ageless and timeless.
© Copyright 2011 Lisa Traiger
Published September 23, 2011