Eiko (female) and Koma (male) were law and political science students in Japan when, in 1971, they each joined the Tatsumi Hijikata company in Tokyo. Their initially experimental collaboration soon developed into an exclusive partnership. The following year, Eiko and Koma started working as independent artists in Tokyo. At the same time, they began to study with Kazuo Ohno, who along with Hijikata was the central figure in the Japanese avant-garde theatrical movement of the 1960s. Neither Eiko nor Koma have studied traditional Japanese dance or theater forms; they have preferred to choreograph and perform only their own works.
Their interest in Neue Tanz, the German modern dance movement which flourished alongside the Bauhaus movement in art and architecture, and their desire to explore nonverbal theater took them to Hanover, Germany in 1972. There they studied with Manja Chmiel, a disciple of Mary Wigman, the noted pioneer of Expressionism in dance. In 1973, they moved to Amsterdam and for the next two years toured extensively in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Tunisia.
It was the late Lucas Hoving, a wonderful dancer who had toured with the early Jose Limon Dance Company, who suggested that they go to America. Their first American performance, White Dance, was sponsored by the Japan Society in May of 1976. Since then, they have presented their works at theaters, universities, museums, galleries and festivals world-wide, including numerous appearances at the American Dance Festival and five seasons at BAM's Next Wave Festival.
Eiko & Koma have also created two “living” gallery installations: Breath, commissioned by the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1998, and Naked, commissioned by the Walker Art Center in 2010. For both of these engagements, Eiko & Koma performed for four weeks during all open museum hours.
EIko & Koma create media works as another means of communication with their audiences. Their dances for camera have been presented on "Alive from Off Center" (1989) and at the Dance on Camera Festival at Lincoln Center (2001). Many of their video works --performance archives, dances for camera, and documentaries--are available on www.eikoandkoma.org
Eiko & Koma are known for presenting outdoor works – River (1995), The Caravan Project (1999), Offering (2002), Tree Song (2004), Cambodian Stories Revisited (2007) and Water – as free events in public sites. By performing at dozens of sites for over 30,000 audience members, Eiko & Koma have shared their work with a more diverse public than is usually attainable in theaters. They wish to present their dance as a part of the landscape, an offering and a process rather than a product.
Though Eiko & Koma usually create their own movement, set, costumes and music/sound, they have also collaborated with a wonderful array of artists. Among them are Native American musician Robert Mirabal and painter Sandra Lerner (Land, 1991) singers Chanticleer (Wind, 1993), composer Somei Sato and Kronos Quartet (River, 1997), a Praise Choir and Joseph Jennings (When Nights Were Dark, 2000), dancer Anna Halprin and cellist Joan Jeanrenaud (Be With, 2001), clarinetist David Krakauer (Offering, 2002-03) and lighting designer David Ferri. Since 2004 Eiko & Koma have worked with the students and graduates of the Reyum Art School in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. In Cambodian Stories: An Offering of Painting and Dance, Eiko & Koma collaborated with nine young Cambodian painters-turned-performers. The work toured to eleven cities in the United States in the spring of 2006. In the summer of 2007 Charian and Peace, who played the key roles in Cambodian Stories, joined Eiko & Koma again to collaborate in presenting Cambodian Stories Revisited, in restaging of Eiko & Koma’s 1983 Grain and in creating a new piece Quartet. The latter two were commissioned by and premiered at the 2007 American Dance Festival. Eiko & Koma’s Mourning was a collaboration with noted avant-garde pianist Margaret Leng Tan and was commissioned for the 100th year anniversary of Japan Society. Eiko & Koma worked again with Peace and Charian in 2008-2009 on Hunger, a Joyce Theater Twenty-fifth Anniversary Commission and Walker Art Center co-commission. Fragile (2012) marked a second collaboration with Kronos Quartet.
Eiko & Koma embarked, with major support from the Mellon Foundation, on a multi-faceted, multi-year Retrospective Project. Inaugurated with an installation created for the Zhilka Gallery at Wesleyan University in Connecticut in November 2009, The Retrospective Project included new commissions of a living installation and a stage work, reworking of older pieces, outdoor performances, photo exhibitions, video installations, showings of their media dances and documentaries, the publication of a retrospective catalog, workshops and other educational activities such as panel discussions and lectures.The centerpieces of the Retrospective was Raven, a collaboration with composer Robert Mirabal that premiered at Danspace in 2010 and living installation Naked. Regeneration, and the larger Retrospective Project toured widely across American from 2010 to 2012.
Eiko & Koma were named John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellows for 1984. They were awarded one of the first "Bessies" (the New York Dance and Performance Awards) in 1984 for Grain and Night Tide, and were honored again in 1990 for Passage. They were named MacArthur Fellows in June of 1996. This was the first time in the program’s history that the foundation awarded a so-called "genius" fellowship to be shared by collaborators. In 2004, they received the Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award for “lifetime contributions to the field of modern dance.” They received the 2006 Dance Magazine Award and were awarded one of the first fifty United States Artists fellowships. In 2007 and again in 2009, Eiko & Koma were awarded an ALASKA AIR Fellowship administrated by United States Artists with support from the Rasmuson Foundation. In 2012 Eiko & Koma were named to the first round of artists selected for the Doris Duke Performing Arts Awards (2012). Notably, they were each honored as individual artists.
Eiko & Koma have been permanent residents of the United States since 1976. They currently live in New York City, where they perform regularly and offer occasional Delicious Movement Workshops.