Peace is River: Eiko and Koma recreate site-specific work for American Dance Festival

  • the World Art Reviews, July 7, 2011
  • Ali Duffy

As dusk fell on July 5th, a crowd gathered around the pond at Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham, NC, a spattering of eager chit chat filling the air, patrons crowding onto beach towels and blankets. Settled silently frozen in the dark green water of the pond stood the male counterpart of duet Eiko and Koma, only the back of Koma's head visible above the water, holding a makeshift architectural structure afloat. The sold out audience had come to see a restructuring of site-specific work "River" as part of American Dance Festival's 78th season of performances. Created in 1995 in the Catskill Mountains, "River" is a collaboration of movement, art, media, and design, all dealing with the transformation and re-imagining of space and time.

A kaleidoscope of images appeared projected onto the white, gauzy fabric that held Koma's wooden structure together. Delicate fingers and sloping lines of shoulder, elbow, and hip emerged as did more abstract linear shapes, not as clearly identifiable. The female figure in the projection splashed softly in a puddle of water, her arms outstretched, head dropped back, joints and sinew askew in a mishmash of floating shapes.

As the film faded, Koma allowed the architectural frame to fall to the water. As ripples emanated from the point of impact, he sank into the water, only eyes peering from the ledge of visibility. Just as he began to float away and fade from view into the darkness of the water, Eiko appeared crouched across the pond next to a burning fire, hints of string music beginning to waft from the pond blended with the natural buzzing sounds of frogs and insects who call the pond home. With placid, careful deliberation, she made her way to the spot midstream where Koma began, lifting delicate arms, turning her face into the stark light that stretched across the dark. Dressed in the same gauzy fabric that covered the wooden structure, the long flowing sleeves of her dress created long arcs of reflected image onto the pond, a projected image not unlike that which appeared at the start of the piece. Haunting and exquisite, she emanated peace yet a sense of angst in the twisting of her torso, lengthening of her arms.

Suddenly, Koma re-emerged, floating across the water, clinging to the same wooden structure, now stripped of its fabric. As the two met, they seamlessly shifted in and out of the structure, which became an island amid a desolate expanse of dark water. They held each other gently, and floated in and out of the negative space of the sculpture, all the while revolving like planets in orbit. The highlight of the work happened as Eiko lifted the entire architectural piece out of the water and peered up at its enormity, as a child would stare awestruck at a skyscraper. Their moving tableau melted back into the surface of the water as they floated away into darkness together, connected in eternity.

The beauty of "River" is in its quiet, mature simplicity. The work does not demand rapt attention, yet the audience was enraptured for the entirety of the hour-long performance. Its slow, controlled, intricately woven movement counters the very ideals of an aggressive, lightning fast culture like ours, but how refreshing to watch a duet relishing in the passage of time with ease and unhurried thoughtfulness.

Because the uniquely complex, rich process of making this work evoked strong memories in Eiko and Koma and collaborators, a documentary was made about the work entitled "Dancing in Water: The Making of River" and can be viewed at www.eikoandkoma.org.

American Dance Festival continues July 7-9 with Emmanuel Gat Dance at the Durham Performing Arts Center.
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