Offering
photo by Jaroslaw Brzezinski

Offering (2001)

From Program Notes:

The original title of this work, conceived in pre-September 11th, New York, was Coffin Dance. My partner/collaborator Koma and I wanted to bring into focus the death experiences that American society seemed to be hiding.  But we decided to rename the work to Offering when New Yorkers had to see coffin after coffin in the weeks and months after September 11th. Death was no longer in a closet. However, having experienced strong grief and regret, I saw how quickly people were orchestrated to forget the true meaning of violence and sorrow.  In the process, victims were turned into heroes. And compassion was replaced by hate and swallowed with a song of freedom. Koma and I wanted to re-design the project as a ritual that allows us simultaneously to mourn, remember, share, and face death.

Offering is our fourth, full-evening-length site work following River (1995), Breath (1998), and Caravan Project (2000). All of these pieces are performed as admission-free events in outdoor or unconventional sites. They are designed as a mean to make fully realized performances available to neighborhoods and communities whose facilities are unsuitable for our theatrical works. Koma and I wanted to radically enlarge the definition of the art audience by bringing the work where people are not expecting to encounter it. We were interested in performing for a wider range of audiences than those we can expect in traditional theaters. At the same time we also wanted to give our long-time viewers a very different perspective with which to watch our dance. After six years of performing and touring these site works, we wished to go a step further in conceiving Offering.   

The more commercial the arts have become, the more we wanted to present a dance that is naked and spontaneous. By nakedness I mean the opposite of the commodified nudity. Nakedness is evocative, existential, challenging, yet affirmative, because it demonstrates our commonality. However, when we perform in public spaces, a law prohibits us from being literally naked. This gives us the task of presenting metaphorical nakedness. That is to present our bodies and movements consciously unprotected and unguarded by theatrical or media savvy gadgets. I wanted to present an antithesis to so-call-cultures and art products. Even long before September 11th, I wrote in my project description that this society needed "deceivingly but decisively simple art," because I felt we all needed such art. After September 11th, that need has been even more strong and urgent.

This conceived simplicity makes the essential quality of dance more visible. Dance is an ephemeral art.  Dancers' minds and bodes reside in the present, the meeting place/time of a performer and an audience. Yet, by being seen by the audience and by being able to evoke emotional implications to both viewers and performers, dance lingers on into the future and reflects the past. The present is not an entity that is simply between the past and the future but the one that is the window to look into and understand the density of both past memories and future happenings. Koma and I wanted to present Offering as such: a "window."

The kinetic experience of seeing a dance makes the present visible. In Offering we artists and viewers recognize that this present is brutal and merciless.

We use soil as a simple stage set. This least exotic, easily attainable, and inexpensive material turned out to speak volumes to many viewers evoking their memories. Dancing with dirt made us physically dirty and that enhanced our vulnerability. One woman told me how the soil in our work reminded her that it "absorbs tears, sweat, and blood."

In 2002 Koma and I performed Offering in six sites in Manhattan that we hand-picked earlier. In performing Offering, we intended to address our and the community’s need to mourn for September 11th. By performing in multi-locations we wanted to be a part of New York in such a way that we literally became a part of its landscape, placing our own bodies where we could breathe in the commotion of New York and be accountable by being seen by anyone who come or pass. We wished to create reciprocal relationships not only with the audience but also with the environment.

We wanted to be intimate with the sadness and anger of the dead. In the Japanese traditional Noh Theater, a dead person often revisits this world in order to tell the audience how he had to die. By sympathizing the dead’s anger, fear, and frustration, people think they can ritually calm down an agitated spirit that cannot find peace in death. Koma and I felt the same need. Looking at the smoke of the Ground Zero directly from our window, we felt the victims" anger -- the dead were "victims" not "heroes." It was as if their anger seized me and made me numb. We wanted to actively get closer to the pain.

Each of the other locations gave us a special experience. Each performance was co-produced by a different park committee or a neighborhood organization with "Dancing in the street." Each park has their constituency who feel the park is theirs. These local people and caretakers were our audience. We performers are visitors and that interestingly reversed the usual performer/audience relationship.

--Eiko

Read more about Offering.