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Water The Star-Ledger | Eiko + Koma
Water The Star-Ledger
photo by Sam Kanter

Dancers Eiko and Koma bring the wilderness to Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors

  • The Star-Ledger , August 2, 2011
  • Robert Johnson

NEW YORK—Few areas of this city appear as civilized as Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Yet a parcel of this land returned to wilderness with the premiere, on Wednesday, of Eiko and Koma’s “Water,” a heart-breaking evocation of the natural world that seemed to uncover an ancient track amid the surrounding buildings.

Commissioned by the Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors Festival, and performed at night in the reflecting pool that fronts the Vivian Beaumont Theater, “Water” is a site-specific piece that has nothing to do with its modern-day location. With scant resources apart from their style of “delicious movement,” Eiko and Koma transform the place utterly, opening a window onto a forgotten landscape. Their performance is astounding.

Although the dance is plotless, the audience seated in hushed attention around the pool is free to use its imagination. The pacing of the movement, typically glacial but also advancing in growth-spurts, opens a space in which viewers can puzzle over what they see and empathize with strangers who may be lost or in distress. Eiko and Koma grope their way forward with a mysterious sense of purpose, displaying a tenacious instinct to survive. No gesture is indispensable. The dance as a whole is what matters. Yet each movement also seems precious, like hardy fruit ripening in a time of scarcity.

Eiko is the first to appear, wading into view from behind one of sculptor Henry Moore’s bronze boulders. As she stops, her face upturned in a shaft of theatrical moonlight, one wonders what misfortune could have brought a woman to this desolate extreme. Standing up to her knees in black water, she seems as comfortless and untethered as a deer roaming the woods. When Koma emerges from another direction, it seems vital that they connect.

Terrific suspense arises from the halting, feeble movement of their fingers reaching for each other. Their hands clasp tightly, lovingly, yet rescue is nowhere in sight, and as the dance continues the universe shows its indifference to their plight. Like the victims of a shipwreck, they begin to weaken and sink. Gradually, but in a fatal instant, they might succumb disappearing beneath the pool’s mirrored surface.

Eventually a driftwood raft appears, and only then does composer Robert Mirabal supply a throbbing drumbeat of renewed hope, with a flute melody like plaintive breath. This raft and a later float carrying flaming tapers occasion further slow-motion dramas.

Meanwhile, a curious thing happens. It seems that our perception of time relies upon awareness of the movement around us. Watching Eiko and Koma, a dislocation occurs. Altering our temporal point of reference, they put us in free-fall creating a state in which we can accept that they are no longer individuals on a particular journey. Instead, their passage through space begins to resemble the cyclical struggle of generations of living things, and even the continuously reforming surface of the planet itself.

Eiko and Koma achieve global consciousness by freeing us from our own, narrow rhythm. Standing outside we can see our connectedness, and how puny our lives look from afar.

Robert Johnson: rjohnson@starledger.com
Related topics: eiko-and-koma, lincoln-center-out-of-doors