When Sam Miller proposed the idea of a Retrospective Project, it struck us as an odd thing to do. However, we realized that it is nearly 40 years since Koma and I met and nearly 35 years since we moved to New York. In those 35 years, we have created some 40 pieces. It seemed like a good time to look back a little, so we can think about what is next.
The fact that many of our pieces are evening length has made it difficult for us to perform old works. And so we have often recycled movement, props and music we liked. For example, we wear similar costumes for Fur Seal, Tree Song and Mourning and we use similar materials for the sets of Breath and Tree. My “seaweed” solo belonged to White Dance but was used again in Wind (1993). This Retrospective Project is giving us an opportunity to go beyond recycling favorite phrases, and instead allows us to remember what we were thinking and find out how we think about it now.
Working on the project brought a little reflection. We usually make our own sets and costumes, choreographing on our own bodies. Inevitably we have had to grapple with our narrowness in movement vocabulary, tone and time sense. Thus, every time we make a work, we feel like we are squeezing ourselves dry, and that the work is the last one we ever want to make. But performing a piece and getting to know more about it has always brought us new juice and a refreshed desire. Looking back, this accumulation of our motifs and our limited versatility seem to have given us the kind of stubbornness, peculiarity and continuity we had wanted in our youth and still want for our life. There may not have been too many different things we both want to say or dance about, but we hope we make it clear that we really care about these few themes.
Stimulated by recent teaching opportunities, we have started to pay more attention to our archive and early influences. By looking back and creatively reconstructing our archive, we hope to understand our own trajectory. The urgent question to address here is whether new or younger audiences may benefit from knowledge of our older works and what informed our works. Until recently, we had long maintained that one view or even partial view of a wordless performance is enough of an encounter for each viewer to form his/her own opinion. A viewer does not need to be guided or prompted toward “understanding.” However, as we age and add more works to our creative history, we find that newer and younger audiences who have not seen our earlier works come to experience the world we create. How can we give these new audiences access to Eiko & Koma’s past works and history? We have also come to realize that young people may benefit from spelling out certain social contexts that are common knowledge in our generation, such as the knowledge of violence in Cambodia in seeing “Cambodian Stories.”
In our context “new” encompasses the ways our past empowers our present and future. This is particularly true in performing arts. Viewers who experienced an artist’s past works enrich their “now” with not only the knowledge of the artist’s trajectory but with their own life experiences. Both are reserves to supply viewers with feelings and understandings. Thus we find ourselves wanting to recognize and be recognized for art making as a life-long continuity and exploration rather than as a line of new products. These ambitions and concerns, particularly our desires to explore our “later work,” to better communicate with new and younger audiences, and to stay viable in the lives of our experienced audience members motivated us to reflect on the Retrospective Project.