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Fragile Residency at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center | Eiko + Koma
Fragile Residency at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
photo by Anna Lee Campbell

Fragile Residency at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

  • Rosemary Candelario

Rosemary Candelario recently joined the Eiko & Koma team to work on the new Archive Project. She is no stranger to Eiko & Koma, however, having worked with them during their quarter-long residency in 2006 at UCLA, where she was a MA student. Rosemary went on to write her PhD dissertation at UCLA on Eiko & Koma, and is thrilled to be helping them organize and conceptualize their archives. She recently traveled to the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland to see the premiere of Fragile February 22-23, and wrote the following about her time there.

When I walk into the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, I know I am in the right place. Dominating the lobby is an unmistakable Eiko & Koma structure, a sand-colored Tea House pocked with scorched holes and covered with feathers softly fluttering in an unseen wind. As I enter the Tea House, a young woman passes me on her way out, pausing to confide in me, "This is the most peaceful place on campus!" Inside I find cushions scattered around a center well where video of Eiko & Koma made specifically for this installation plays under a thin layer of water. Strains of Kronos Quartet mingle with passing conversations and the sounds of people moving about their business. Sitting there, I realize that the Tea House functions much like Eiko & Koma's dances: It invites you to approach, to come in and see what's there, to spend time and have your own experience. Repeated visits at different times of the day, in different moods, reward you with an entirely new perspective.

Nearby, traces of many Eiko & Koma performances are on display in Residue at the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library. A passageway between the lobby and the Library has been turned into an exhibition space for sets, costumes, and photographs from across Eiko & Koma's body of work. Additionally, eight specially designed video "wells," allow passers-by the opportunity to have a personal encounter with Eiko & Koma's proscenium, site, and media dances. Following signs on the walls that invite me to "touch, but do not tug," I finger the costumes: delicate silks from Wind, supple leathers from Land, a brittle mix of a T-shirt and flour paste from Fission. I wonder at the history and memories infused in these fabrics.

The Kogod Theatre has been transformed into an intimate and organic environment for the four-hour durational event, Fragile. This collaborative work with Kronos Quartet was conceived as an extension of the living installation, Naked (2010). I spent many hours at Naked at the Walker Center, which commissioned the work, so the environment is immediately familiar to me: walls that echo the Tea House, a wide expanse of pungent dirt, an island of feathers on which Eiko & Koma, unclothed, are marooned. There is one big difference, though. Fragile takes the home created by Naked, and invites Kronos Quartet to come live in it as collaborators with Eiko & Koma. The Quartet sits in a semi-circle in startling proximity to Eiko & Koma.

When watching Naked, which Eiko & Koma performed for six hours a day, every day for a month, without any music, one has the sense that nothing else is going to happen, that this moment is the only one there is. But the presence of Kronos Quartet in Fragile alters my expectations. Will Eiko & Koma do something different in response to the music? How will their raw, Asian aesthetic connect with Kronos Quartet's canon of Western civilization? I commit to staying the whole four hours to find out, and am interested to find that many of my fellow audience members do the same. I am surprised (and I found out later that Eiko & Koma were just as surprised) that the sound score conceived by David Harrington of Kronos Quartet includes audio recordings about the atomic bomb, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Fukushima Daiichi. I watch Eiko & Koma closely for any indication that their bodies acknowledge these haunting words. I sense that even if they intentionally try to duck the sound, they can't help but be affected by it. I notice a rippling tension building underneath the skin and a heightened angularity that they seem to deal with by seeking contact with one another. Over and over again Eiko & Koma reach towards each another with heads, hands, limbs, as if seeking comfort and connection at the end of the world.

At different times, Kronos' music comes alarmingly close to or is strangely alienated from the two naked bodies and what they call to mind. Silences between the music and the audio recordings create tension and yet provide breathing room for the audience to pay attention to every detail of the bodies and the space. Near the end of the piece, Eiko & Koma briefly sing along with the violins. Eiko's fragmented phrases evoke human memories, while Koma's sighed animalistic sounds suggest dreaming. After the performance is over, Eiko observes to me that music or words are sometimes an agitation, a memory, or a gift. Just as Eiko & Koma always engage in a feedback process about their choreography, the music score may yet shift and change.

As I head back to New York, I muse that the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center engagement is a fitting capstone to the Retrospective Project. Eiko & Koma have used the Retrospective to not only revisit their own repertoire, but also to find new ways to collaborate with old friends like Kronos Quartet and Robert Mirabal. The Tea House, Residue, and Fragile are all imbued with Eiko & Koma's past, yet continue to take risks, using history to artistically re-imagine the present, and the future, for both the artists and us all.

Eiko & Koma are currently artists-in-residence at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, which is celebrating its 10th year anniversary this year. In September 2011, they performed a program titled Regeneration, which included White Dance (1976) and Night Tide (1984). In late fall Eiko & Koma visited the center to install Residue and teach a number of classes. They will return to the center once again in May to perform The Caravan Project (1999), which they revived in the summer of 2011 and presented at Chicago MCA.