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"A Body in Places" Film Series | Eiko + Koma
image by Kiyomi Kuroda

"A Body in Places" Film Series

As part of Danspace Project's Platform, Anthology Film Archives welcomes Eiko as guest-curator of a film series showcasing movies that have influenced her work and that speak to her chosen theme, A Body in Places. Encompassing narrative films such as BURMESE HARP, KANAL, and THE NAKED ISLAND, as well as several rarely-screened documentaries, the series pairs each feature film with short works by Eiko, Eiko & Koma, and John Killacky.

The films and videos in this series illuminate bodies in particular places. How are humans conditioned by the characteristics of places? How do we contribute to and survive the characteristics of places? How do people move from one place to another, and by doing so, how do they leave traces and residues in the places they leave behind?

Danspace Project’s PLATFORM 2016: A Body in Places is a month-long multidisciplinary program that will illuminate and expand on Eiko’s solo project of the same title. In addition to this film series, the Platform will include Eiko’s daily solo performances at various locations in the East Village, guest artist performances, installations, curated talks, a poetry reading, a 24-hour exhibition in Danspace Project’s home at St. Mark’s Church, a book club, movement workshops, and a catalogue.
For more information, please refer to Platform Program

The BODY IN PLACES film series is co-presented by Danspace Project and Anthology Film Archives, and co-organized by The Japan Foundation. Curated by Eiko, who is also the author of all the film descriptions below. Eiko is grateful for the assistance of Alexis Moh throughout the planning and presentation of the Platform. Special thanks as well to Lydia Bell and Judy Hussie-Taylor (Danspace Project) and to Kanako Shirasaki (Japan Foundation).

Kon Ichikawa
1956, 116 min, 16mm, b&w. In Japanese with English subtitles.

I grew up in post-war Japan, devouring the works of those who experienced WWII. Popular entertainment, from movies to manga, were also suffused with memories of the conflict. However, we who did not experience it were aware that we did not really know how people had killed and died in the war.
Soon after 9/11, I began thinking about how dying in mass violence is different from dying from a disease or an accident. Why does it matter how we die? Then I realized that, however painful the process of dying, one who dies from a disease or an accident is at least dying their own personal death. A personal death receives personal attention. Mizushima, the protagonist of THE BURMESE HARP who attempts to persuade his fellow soldiers to surrender to the British upon the end of the war, witnesses countless corpses as he wanders through Burma. Fear, remorse, and hesitation gradually transform this survivor into a mourner. Ultimately he tells himself, “I cannot return to Japan.” Film director Ichikawa described THE BURMESE HARP as the first film he felt a profound need to make. Shot in Burma and Japan, it helped viewers to imagine the war and to mourn.

Eiko & Koma and James Byrne UNDERTOW 1988, 7 min, 16mm b&w
UNDERTOW is a work choreographed for the camera in collaboration with video artist James Byrne. Eiko & Koma’s two naked bodies float in the space of an existential limbo.
–Wed, Feb 17 at 7:00.

We all come from water and water courses through our bodies. We are a bubble floating down the river of life to the unknown. Water is both a source of life and a threat. When water becomes a menace to our lives and senses, our existence is truly frightened.

Andrzej Wajda
1956, 95 min, 35mm, b&w. In Polish with English subtitles.
KANAL follows a near-decimated company of Polish resistance fighters as they make a final effort to escape the encircling Nazis through the sewers of Warsaw. A merciless view of their flight through the putrid waters, KANAL is a story void of glory and nearly void of hope, where the desire for dignity, even survival, becomes faint. Wajda was an important figure for our youth in Japan. When Eiko & Koma performed in the Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology in 2007, founded by Wajda in Krakow, Poland, we had the pleasure of meeting the filmmaker and telling him how his ASHES AND DIAMONDS had had a special meaning for those of us who were student fighters in the political movements of the late ‘60s. His KANAL inspired Koma and me in 1989 to create the work, CANAL, a work for several naked bodies, whose stage design suggested both urban sewers and the blood stream of a body.

Eiko & Koma WALLOW 1984, 19 min, video
WALLOW was our first attempt to create dance for a camera, shot in Point Reyes, California.
–Wed, Feb 24 at 7:00.

Nakedness is my life-long theme: artistically, physically, and metaphorically. THE NAKED ISLAND depicts the life of a family on a small island that barely provides them with the means for subsistence. Like THE NAKED ISLAND, Eiko & Koma’s “living installations” are place-based works. In a gallery, we create another place where we exist and move as inhabitants.

Kaneto Shindo
1960, 96 min, 35mm, b&w. In Japanese with English subtitles.
The poetic, dialogue-free THE NAKED ISLAND is one of my favorite films. Shindo created the first Japanese independent film production company in 1950 and never returned to mainstream productions throughout his career, which lasted until his death in 2012 at the age of 100. THE NAKED ISLAND is a model of low budget filmmaking. The minimal cast and crew all camped out at the location, sharing all the necessary labor. This method, which Shindo adhered to for most of his career, deeply influenced generations of Japanese independent filmmakers. EIko & Koma ahs also taken the same path. Shot on Sukun-jima in the gentle Seto Inland Sea, NAKED ISLAND seems at first like a fable but its description of the surrounding society is in fact a realistic one.

Eiko & Koma HUSK 1987, 9 min, 16mm
HUSK is my solo; Koma was on camera. We wanted to create a dance poem of an unnamed body in an unnamed place. The choreography of both body and camera was created to make an unedited media work.
–Wed, Mar 2 at 7:00.

Noriaki Tsuchimoto
1971, 120 min, 16mm. In Japanese with English subtitles. This screening is co-organized by The Japan Foundation.
I grew up in postwar, post-occupation Japan, an era of rapid economic growth accompanied by pollution and environmental hazards. It was clear that corporations did not care for much besides profit. Minamata is a city in southern Japan that gave its name to a fatal disease caused by the most notorious environmental hazard in Japan’s history. Fishermen, their families, and their pets were the first victims to suffer from methylmercury poisoning by eating fish harvested from the sea that, for 36 years, was contaminated by a fertilizer factory. The victims’ anger and their efforts to create normalcy within their abnormal situation deliver a deep sense of urgency. That urgency also manifested in other resistance movements, which affected the ways in which some of my own generation thought of the world and learned ways to live and fight.

Eiko & Koma and James Byrne LAMENT 1985, 9 min, 16mm
We collaborated with James Byrne to create LAMENT in the mid-1980s when I saw many colleagues and friends become sick and die of AIDS. To live is to witness the suffering of others, and to see the wrongs of the society that creates this suffering. To acknowledge this suffering and to maintain mourning for it is to willfully refuse to forget.
–Wed, Mar 9 at 7:00.

I met Mura Dehn by accident soon after Koma and I arrived in New York. Surprised by how little sense of rhythm I have as a dancer, Mura offered to teach me her “compromised version of jazz dance for Eiko.” It is a quintessentially New York story of how two young Japanese artists in their 20s ended up inheriting from an old Russian Jewish friend the wealth of African American people dancing their hearts out in the Savoy Ballroom of pre-war Harlem. In the sea of African Americans, Mura was often the only white person dancing. She said the entire Savoy was bustling with dancing energy. One dancer in her film says, “Spirit moves me. When spirit leaves me I stop dancing.”

Mura Dehn
1987, 119 min, 16mm
Dehn, born and first trained in dance in Russia, moved to Europe to study at the Isadora Duncan School. Later she studied jazz and immigrated to the US in 1930. She found the most exciting jazz dancing at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. First as a dancer, then as a filmmaker, she immersed herself among the most brilliant African American dancers. Her magisterial, three-part documentary features her own narration.

Eiko Otake A BODY IN A STATION 2015, 15 min, digital
An excerpt from Eiko’s performance at Fulton Center in Lower Manhattan in June 2015. Camera by Alexis Moh; edited by Alexis Moh with Eiko.
–Wed, Mar 16 at 7:00.

I have long felt that dance does not belong only to the young, healthy, and athletic. Here are some clear examples of old and challenged bodies dancing in mourning of the lost.

Otsu Koshiro
2005, 100 min, digital. In Japanese with English subtitles.
I studied with Butoh’s founder Kazuo Ohno in 1971-72 and again in 1975-76. He was always disappointed by my leaving for faraway places like Europe and the US. Having spent nine years in the War, Ohno, upon his return, danced with urgency, perhaps also with remorse. In 1977, at the age of 70, he danced La Argentina, his homage to famed Spanish dancer La Argentina, whom he saw in 1929. He performed six seasons in New York, the last in December 1999 at the age of 93, his very final concert abroad. He soon suffered a fall that advanced his Alzheimer’s. However, with the help of his son Yoshito Ohno, he continued to dance on a chair, both in his studio and in the theaters of various cities. Though his memories and steps were lost, his dancing clearly lived on in his body and mind. Ohno danced and murmured, “If I cannot dance, why have I climbed this mountain?”

John Killacky and Steve Grandell STOLEN SHADOWS 1996, 10 min, video
John Killacky DREAMING AWAKE 2003, 5 min, video
STOLEN SHADOWS is a black and white film lamenting on the mounting losses from the AIDS pandemic. DREAMING AWAKE juxtaposes a narrator in a wheelchair with the movement of nude dancers. A surgical mishap left Killacky paralyzed. He willed himself to re-learn and train his new body.

–Wed, Mar 23 at 7:00.