Regeneration TimeOut Chicago
photo by Anna Lee Campbell

Live Review: Eiko & Koma "Regeneration"

  • TimeOut Chicago, September 22, 2011
  • Zachary Whittenburg

Eiko and Koma in White Dance, 2010
Photo: Anna Lee Campbell

Although resomation isn’t exactly brand-new technology, a vivid headline in the Daily Mail this week—“Funeral home brings in machine which turns dead bodies into ‘brown syrup’”—brought the burial alternative into common knowledge.

I thought of this while struggling to find a handful of words for my notebook that would remind me later of what Night Tide (1984), one of three duets by Eiko & Koma presented during , feels like to watch. Very little happens in its dozen minutes. At left, the woman, Eiko, naked, kneels with her head to the floor and her bottom to the ceiling. At right, the man, Koma, does the same. Dim pools of light hold each, surrounded and separated by the deep, deep blue of a night sky. The light pulls their bottoms up toward it, like a tractor beam, or like the moon tugs the ocean’s near and far sides into high tides. From the left-hand staircase in the theater’s house, Taos Pueblo musician Robert Mirabal plays a flute, trilling gently up and down like swells that don’t quite break into waves.

Eiko and Koma move toward each other, have a brief exchange and then part. The stage goes dark and Mirabal’s flute spikes suddenly upward into a shriek and then, silence*.

That’s when I thought of resomation: If two people’s entire lives together were a body, were all of its organs and flesh and lashes and toenails, Night Tide was like that body’s “soft, porous white bone remains, easily crushed,” left over after alkaline hydrolysis turned the rest into Mrs. Butterworth’s. Also: It’s inimitable and absolutely riveting.

The two works that bookend Night Tide in “Regeneration” [part of MCA exhibit “Time Is Not Even, Space Is Not Empty” (part of Eiko & Koma’s multi-venue, multi-year Retrospective Project)] are longer and made up more of distinct scenes. But they share Night Tide’s feeling of being boiled down to essentials. The newer, Raven (2010), which opens the program, begins with Eiko alone, in silence, prone and head toward us like an Olympic skeleton racer. To her right, Mirabal kneels with a broad, shallow drum and beats it hard while wailing. Black feathers are all around and the floor covering matches the drop: tan fabric like hide, charred in spots like naan. Eiko picks up a dark grey shawl, shaped roughly like the state of Kentucky, and two fistfuls of straw.

Koma enters with two fistfuls of black feathers. They support and burden each other simultaneously.

Eiko and Koma were in their mid-twenties when they made White Dance (1976), their first choreographed piece, although they’d been using the title generally for improvisations before that. (It was also the first work that they presented in Chicago, at seminal, long-gone dance venue MoMing.) The Retrospective Project “allows us to remember what we were thinking and find out how we think about it now,” say their program notes; indeed, the pair performed White Dance with the zest, immediacy and revolutionary spirit of two young Butoh disciples from Tokyo touring Europe to dig deep into Western dance-theater.

Unlike the first two pieces, White Dance doesn’t end in darkness. It simply melts off of its skeleton in front of our eyes, ready to be poured into the river of memory.

*Just a reminder: If you’re in a theater, silence your fucking phone or turn it the fuck off. Thanks in advance.

Eiko & Koma: “Regeneration” continues at the MCA Stage through September 24. “Time Is Not Even, Space Is Not Empty” is on display at the museum through November 13. An encore presentation of Naked closes the artists’ Chicago residency beginning November 8.
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