Natural Forms: Life, Forces, and Circumstance

  • NEA Dance Critics Institute, 2010
  • Mary Love Hodges

Time is different inside Eiko and Koma's work.  "A moment" is normally a useful construction for talking about dance performances, but it is inadequate for isolating a kernel of time within theirs'.  For Eiko and Koma, celebrated creative and romantic partners known for their glacial pace, it isn't that time passes while the dancers move slowly--time swells, and their performance inhabits that expansiveness.  Beingness lasts. 

The work, too, lasts.  Eiko and Koma's Retrospective Project encompasses their 40-year career with restagings, installations, film, screenings, and an extensive internet archive.  Traveling to different cities, Eiko and Koma have tailored their offerings for each site and community they visit.  Their newest piece, Raven was created for the project and is presented in every city on the tour, serving as a through line for the retrospective.  It opens the program for their 18th appearance with the American Dance Festival, followed by excerpts from Night Tide (1984) and White Dance (1976).

Raven's set is eggshell white strewn with dark patches; the backdrop panels are scorched canvas and the floor is covered with sand and black feathers, lined by two rows of long dried grasses.  Eiko lays prone in the center, her long dark hair concealing her face.  She presses upwards, not triumphantly but weakly and desperately, gradually finding new ways to rise.  Her changing body takes shapes that seem to defy human joint structure: the crooked, dropped angle of her head; the curvature of her raised leg against the wide splay of her toes; later, her rounded heap of a back on top of her forward leg, making her look like a hatchling still trapped in its shell.  We hear a bird's caw, then wailing and drumming.  Koma enters, more agitated.  He draws plumes of dust into the air by scooting around on his feet. 

Skin powdered white, and uncovered other than a loose cloth, the pair evokes emotion as well as nature images.  They are not acting, or storytelling, but some essence of what they do is the same as those states we call pleading, struggling, clutching, comforting, and failing.  Koma stands over Eiko--he might be protecting her or consuming her--and in pulling her face into his waistcloth, she might be seeking solace or devouring him.  Not literal or representational, their extended inhabitation is so powerful as to demand association with our primal experiences.

The program has no intermission, only short pauses.  Time moves differently--it is appropriate that the chronology of the dances is in reverse. Sustained development, through time and against time, is a value of Eiko and Koma's work that extends beyond individual pieces to the Durham evening's organization, the scope of the retrospective, and their body of work taken as a whole.  Raven links the present with its precedent.

Natural Forms: Life, Forces, and Circumstance
By Mary Love Hodges