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Greg Hendren on Eiko's work in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine | Eiko + Koma
Greg Hendren on Eiko's work in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine
Photo by William Johnston

Greg Hendren on Eiko's work in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (November 5, 2016)

Reflections on seeing Eiko perform in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine:

In the beginning, sitting in those high-backed seats … in the apse was uncomfortable because they were so constrictive. The only advantage ... was seeing your face as you pushed your head into one of the spaces of one of the seats. It was like looking at your portrait in ten or more frames. Kind of eerie. [But] I couldn't wait to stand up and follow you down the stairs to the floor. 

When you rolled down the steps towards the main floor I noticed the red marble steps. I couldn't help thinking about your white foot against the blood-red marble and its veins.  I know, it's too literal, but no-one can perform in a space with such a heavy history without setting off some associations. 

After you moved from the last step to the floor I heard your silk kimono slip across the rough concrete tiles.... I always am startled and even jerk instinctively hearing the loud clap when you stomp your wooden sandals on the floor, so I couldn't believe I was hearing this small sound inside this Cathedral.

As you moved toward the platform you threw your shoe.  I know you're the only person since the Cathedral was built that ever threw her shoe. And when it hit the floor the noise caused several people to turn around.

The table on the platform was perfectly aligned with the altar and I thought of the altar and communion.  You had placed many photographs that were offered to anyone in the Cathedral.  Look Eiko, I was raised in the church so I took communion hundreds of times, so I couldn't help making this association.... You are making an offering. And it's your body.

Eiko ran to the sidewalk curb and ran across the street following the signal to walk. She reaches the fence of the first building and gently stops. Her kimono is moving in the wind.

I decide to run after her, but by the time I reach the fence she's sprinted ahead and stops in front of a building entrance.

She's wearing wooden sandals. I'm wearing rubber soled shoes, but that's not an advantage. 

She runs ahead and pauses twice then sprints to the side of a tree on the sidewalk and pauses in front of a man moving large blue plastic containers. She then turns back towards the church. Why is she running so far from the Cathedral? I'm the only person who is running after her. And why am I running? When was the last time I ran after anyone? Playing. But this wasn't playing. I felt unconsciously compelled to follow. During the last sprint I wondered why is she still dancing if no one from the performance can see her?

Eiko wasn't running to be seen. The distance from the curb closest to the Cathedral where Eiko stopped and ended her performance was easily the length of the Cathedral or longer. I remember feeling physically relieved after seeing Eiko turn back to the Cathedral. She pulled the Cathedral's interior darkness into the afternoon's bright light where it dissipated and vanished. She was stretching the darkness like a leg muscle. Not gently, but not in one fast move causing a painful cramp. She moved then paused, moved and paused, moved and paused for the third stretch until the darkness was fully extended. When she turned around the darkness had disappeared. 

She quickly smiled and immediately began talking about gathering everyone together to talk about the piece. She started saying things like, ".---Tell me what you think. ---I don't want to be vulgar.”  (I can't imagine what she could possibly do that was vulgar.)  She sees someone who just arrived, introduces her and tells her to join the circle.  Don't sit so far away.  Come.  Come. OK, what do you think as she turns to everyone in the small circle. You are my think tank. It's difficult to talk to Eiko.  There is Eiko and then Eiko the dancer. Her transition from Eiko to Eiko takes a second or less. I'm sitting in the circle still immersed in the performance so it takes me a minute or two to talk about the work. 

During the second performance those kids that interacted with you were extraordinary. These kids were entirely uninhibited and crawled right up to you. They saw you at angles that no one else has seen or photographed (even William!) When you first moved close to the younger girl, I'm guessing maybe four or five years old, she bolted over the top of the chair to her mother. I think initially she was frightened, but then she ran right up to you with her sister and another girl, the daughter of a french family, for the rest of the performance. 

When you handed the dried flower stem to a man he held it in the same position. Didn't move. ... Did he feel as if moving his arm would alter his position as a viewer? If he moved his arm would he become a participant, and that could be uncomfortable.  The girl acted identically.  She froze in place.… When would you hand over an item to your child or an adult and say Don't Move.  It's not comfortable, but I guess there's this deep-seated fear of doing something wrong, like spilling a glass of wine or milk unless you are perfectly still until it's taken out of your hand.

You asked about the use of space in this mammoth, dark Cathedral. When you first came into the space you said that you would be lost in this vast space. My immediate thought was that's the purpose of cathedrals. They intimidate worshipers and invoke silence.  But watching you move  activated the space.… Paintings on the walls need to collaborate with movement.  Your dance is absolutely essential. You pull the paintings into the space, the space to the paintings, you activate the interior by pulling people through the space in ways they've never moved or experienced.  And maybe you've confused those chapels and buttresses and floors and doors as you move. They'll need to rethink their purposes!

You walked to the door at the end of your second performance you passed three women who were talking about shopping and cell phone plans and I don't remember how many other trivial subjects. As you walked towards them a tension began to build as I wondered at what moment will they will spin around startled. They just kept talking. They weren't ignoring you. You were invisible.  A ghost passing with no expression except in your eyes. I felt sorry for these ladies. They were gathered in a tight circle and missed seeing you.

I wanted to add Ruth's thoughts: The street was a river and you were standing on the bank before dashing across. And when you pushed one of the buttresses in the Cathedral it looked as if you were as strong as this massive support.

November 2016, New York, NY
Greg Hendren