Regeneration at ADF

Eiko & Koma Timeless

  • The Herald Sun, July 4, 2010
  • Susan Broili

photo by Anna Lee Campbell

Eiko & Koma stop time and create space with no boundaries. They become part of the environment: the land, trees, rivers, night tide, even the wind. Although human, they somehow convey the essence of such creatures as the raven and fur seal.

At this their 18th American Dance Festival appearance, Monday through Wednesday (June 28-30) the Japanese-born performers offered a rare opportunity to see a sampling of their work from the 1976 “White Dance,” their first dance performed in this country, to the 2010 “Raven.” The program also includes the 1984 “Night Tide.”

The title of this program, “Retrospective Project I: Regeneration,” speaks of this look back at 40 dances created over 35 years as a catalyst for their ongoing creative journey rather than as a dwelling on past achievements.

In the Reynolds Theater lobby, three screens showed other work such as “River,”  set in rivers and creeks in nine locations, including Duke Gardens in Durham. On Wednesday on Duke’s East Campus as part of their three-year Retrospective that began last year, the two New York-based artists presented the “River” film as well as a sampling from 36 past works.

In their ADF appearance, the entire program of three dances felt like one work of art. Recurring themes, unique way of moving, sets, music and sounds contributed to this sense of unity.

Their slowed-down movements, sometimes almost imperceptible, create both beautiful and bizarre images. They lurch, limp, stagger and drag themselves through water, leaves, sticks, feathers and potatoes.

The movement sequence remains essentially the same in many dances. They begin the dance far apart and come together only after great struggle and effort. Once they meet, they offer each other support, comfort and sustenance. Then, they separate again. Though seemingly simple, this always has a profound, emotional affect on me. It speaks to their partnership as artists and in life (they are married) and to the struggles of people to relate in general. It connotes love and loss. It also becomes a metaphor for human existence in which each of us is basically alone in terms of how we enter and leave this world.

Through their creativity, they make this basic structure seem fresh and evocative every time. At the Wednesday screening, Eiko joked about their use of this structure. “What can two people do?” she said. In their case, a lot. They paint many of their sets, often sew their own costumes and collaborate with such musicians as Native American Robert Mirabal, whose music score, originally created for the 1991 “Land,” was adapted for “Raven.”

In “Raven,” Mirabal’s drumming heart-beat rhythm and chanting aren’t the only sounds. The dance begins with the cawing of ravens. At one point, Eiko emits an eerie, spine-tingling, desperate cry that sounds like a cross between a scream and a caw. The cry comes after she has lurched and otherwise pulled herself across a stick and leaf-littered, earth-toned floor canvas. She covers herself with a dark, gray cloth and grabs two fistfuls of long, dry grasses. Enter Koma, who uses his hands to prop her up. He then presses a clutch of black feathers against her face as though the feathers were part of a magic spell to give her strength, courage and intelligence of the raven. He then tenderly traces her face with his hand. Later, he bends down so she can drape herself over his shoulder and he carries her. Then, she slips off. She raises both arms like wings then helps him rise. The dance ends as they curl their bodies on the floor close to each other but not touching.

In “Night Tide,” to the rhythmic sounds of waves as heard from underwater, Eiko and Koma appear on their sides, head and feet tucked in, occupying separate, small pools of light far apart on a dark stage. Heads on the stage, they raise their bodies and their naked forms look sculptural like Edward Weston’s photographs of bell peppers. They pull themselves along and when they reach each other, they touch heads. She puts her hands around his neck and though holding on for dear life. Then, she lets go, sinks back down. A keening – or seal’s cry – then silence. They curl up in the same pool of light but do not touch.

“White Dance” has more upright and quicker movements than in later work. There’s no white in it. Koma wears a red robe and Eiko a kimona with pastel squares. But a program note explains that in the beginning, young and wanting to head in a new direction from their teachers in Japan, who called their work the dance of Utter Darkness, the duo called everything “White Dance.” This one, however, marks their first choreographed dance performed in the U.S. in 1976.

The larger space defined by a floor cloth and three cloth panels gives this work an epic, ceremonial quality at the beginning. But the veneer of civilization soon dissolves. Primal cries and shaky, unsteady movements make Eiko look first like an old woman and then like a baby. Koma resembles a peasant as he unloads two bags of potatoes that go rumbling and tumbling all over the stage and present more obstacles to look out for as he shuffles towards her.

The most beautiful moment occurs when Eiko seems to melt into the painted backdrop – stage magic achieved, perhaps, by a projection of the backdrop pattern on her kimona.

Watching their work makes me feel alert, awake but at the same time calm. I feel at peace, my mind free of everyday worries. As the performance starts, I tell myself, “This is what I need.” When the performance ends, I want more.

For more about Eiko & Koma’s Retrospective Project, see www.eikoandkoma.org
© heraldsun.com 2010