February 23, 2012
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, College Park, MD
This is sacred space. Peaceful, gentle, deep, round. Earth. These were my first impressions upon entering into Eiko &Koma’s collaborative performance with Kronos Quartet. I was also immediately struck by the difference between entering in to a space where something is already unfolding, where there is already a rapt audience of so many bodies and minds focused towards one thing, versus entering at the beginning of a performance where the audience assembles together, the performers arrive and everyone begins watching together. In encountering an already attentive crowd my first thoughts were also about the act of watching. What are we watching? Why are we watching? What can one learn by watching the watchers?
As I settled in I observed more about the overall atmosphere of the room and the elements that had given me my first impressions. Eiko & Koma laid on a leaf and feather-covered dirt floor surrounded by the four musicians seated on one side and the audience seated on the floor and boxes on the other side. Despite the rich music of the string instruments the whole room seemed very quiet and very focused as all attention was turned towards the two figures in the middle of the room. They were encircled by eyes watching them and seemed cradled in the center of this universe they had created. Light and shadow played across their nude, white-painted bodies that moved and shifted in slow and subtle ways. They never looked directly at each other but sometimes a hand would reach as if searching for the other and sensing their presence, the spine would arch, languorous limbs would cross, but it was all unfolding in such a way that one was almost unaware of the shift until it had already happened. They were moving so slowly at times that it seemed they were completely still, but after watching for a while I was a aware that in fact they were always in motion, even if in the slightest ways – with respiration, the bend of a finger, the opening of eyes. These movements, which in the flurry of our everyday lives make up the smallest actions, in this setting become the main event. The reach of hand is now not so subtle. Eiko opens her eyes and it is a revelation. Adding to Eiko & Koma’s movement palette was the dance of the musicians seated behind them. They swayed in time with their violins, viola and cello, sometimes smoothly and slowly, sometimes abruptly. The movements of their bodies seemed to match the quality of sound of their instruments and I was reminded how the music is not just coming from the instrument itself but is generated by the movements of the musician as well.
While fascinated by what was unfolding in the space I was also confronted with my own discomfort for probably the first half of the 90 minutes I was there. I was nearing the end of a jam-packed twelve-hour day where every moment was scheduled and sometimes double-booked. I hadn’t eaten in a while and my joints and muscles were aching from rehearsal and not having time to stretch afterwards. I felt as if time was clamoring all around me, crowding every inch of me, while I was trying to orient myself into a contemplative space where time was expansive. If my time was cymbals crashing in disarray, this time was the resonant sound of a single chime. If my time was a gust of wind, this time was wisps of smoke rising from an extinguished flame. If my time was a crowded subway car, this time was a mossy forest floor - soft dark and quiet but continually evolving, unaware and unaffected by all other time. If my time was dictated by units of seconds, minutes and hours, this time was unrestrained, measured only by the rhythm of respiration and the rise and fall of shifting weight. I fought with these opposing forces for a while but finally settled and realized it was this treatment, relationship, acceptance, sustainment, whatever you want to call it, to and of time that created this sacred space. Indeed, time had transformed space. And I did not want to leave.