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Chicago Tribune Review 2011 | Eiko + Koma
Chicago Tribune Review 2011
photo by Kazu Yanagi

Eiko & Koma's invisible motion at MCA

  • Chicago Tribune, June 26, 2011
  • Sid Smith

"Naked" is a series of performances inside an ongoing exhibit that together provide Chicagoans their most comprehensive look yet at the team of Eiko & Koma.

This uncompromising, mystifying pair have been perched unassailably on the edge of the avant-garde since the 1970s. Students of butoh (an umbrella term for dance activities, that originated in Japan), they emigrated from Japan to the U.S. that decade and have been mesmerizing and puzzling audiences ever since--dancers with a deep affinity for visual art. "Naked" and the larger exhibition encompassing it--dubbed "Time Is Not Even, Space Is Not Empty"--is revelatory in the way that its Museum of Contemporary Art gallery setting proves such an hospitable and comprehensive home.

Installation art, after all, is frequently stationary. While the couple's almost impossibly slow motion can be confounding on stage, here it seems comparatively animated. Inside an elaborate gallery-within-a-gallery, the duo lie curled and curved on a mound of feathers, canvas and twigs. Tastefully nude, almost androgynous, they each exhibit an ashen, smudged pallor, bathed in dim lighting that subtly shifts like the movement itself. Whether peaceful sleepers or soon-to-be corpses, they rest on their nest like a post-apocalyptic Adam and Eve.

They often manage motion that's next to invisible--like the minute hand of a clock. Koma turned himself over without seeming to move at all in one stretch, the work of a setting sun sinking into its horizon.

Just as you can sit on small benches for hours or only a few minutes, or peek at them through holes in the canvas walls as if at a postmodern nickelodeon, the meditative prospects are boundless. The feathers resemble seaweed in the darkness, so they also appear as bony, spectral creatures lying at the bottom of a waterless ocean. Tai chi and Andy Warhol's movie "Sleep" come to mind. Their discipline and stamina approaches the incomparable, caught, as they are, for four hours in something of an MRI test from hell. What is dance? Movement? The meaning of human suffering?

The superb installation offers vibrant samples of past decor as well as novel video excerpts from their long career. One entry photo shows off a handsome, young couple, kids, really, an image hard to shake during a performance evoking decay, fragility and desolation.


Eiko & Koma in performance

When: 1-5 p.m. continuously Tuesday

Where: 4th floor gallery, Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Av.

Price: Free, no reservations required