From Lexie Thrash on Eiko at 92Y

Reverence and Mourning: A Body at the 92Y
By Lexie Thrash

I met Eiko while I worked as the Program Apprentice and Assistant to the Director at Jacob's Pillow. Eiko performed A Body at the Pillow, as well as A Body in Pittsfield, and A Body in a Library in Berkshire county during her week with us, and I worked as one of her assistants for each performance. It was here that I was first introduced to her work, her movement, her impact.

The last time I saw Eiko, I was her guest to Simone Forti, Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer: Tea for Three at Danspace Project in October. I sat with her in the second row after she had made her rounds to greet friends and colleagues. She squeezed my arm after a calm spirit passed by our seats and said hello. “That’s Sam Miller,” she whispered. I’d heard all about him.

Friday, May 11, 2018: The day began as soon as Eiko arrived by taxi outside of the 92Y. I made small talk with Rosemary, author of Flowers Cracking Concrete and Eiko’s performance partner for the day. Eiko’s first task for me was to run an errand to a corner store for a bunch of white chrysanthemums - an errand that would take no more than 10 minutes. Thirty minutes, four stores, and much back and forth phone conversation later, still no mums. Finally, we settled on some mum look-alikes and a bunch of white hydrangeas. I felt relief, triumph. But what Eiko truly needed was the mums…

I arrived back to the Harkness Center - wide open, filled with brilliant rich color on the ceiling, warm light spilling through windows, depth, history. Eiko was already Eiko-ing. As she bobbed against the projector screen and pulled slowly on the rope with her full body weight that slowly closed the massive black curtains. I couldn’t help but notice the folks in the room who were experiencing Eiko for the first time. Those of us who’ve witnessed Eiko - either in planning mode or in performance - know that she has a way of provoking, shaking up what’s expected, bringing you new perspective and understanding of yourself in the space.

We moved up and down the flights of stairs, toggling between locations as she planned her performance. She showed me the doorway to the theater where early American modern dance thrived. She told me that this place held weight, history. I marveled, I listened.

One hour before showtime: Rosemary and I are in the dressing room with Eiko as she ritualistically covers her body with white paint. She talks about Sam Miller. She tells me of his heart, his spirit. She shares the last time she spoke to him before he passed away early this month. She explains his influence on arts administrators I admire - Pam Tatge, Jennifer Calienes, Lydia Bell, Judy Hussie-Taylor, and many others. “There would be no Pam without Sam… There would be no Jennifer without Sam…” she would say. He carved out paths for so many artists, but many don’t fully know the paths he walked with other curators, administrators, producers, the weight of his influence on many parts of the dance world across many institutions. I wish I had known him. I listened.

Ten minutes before showtime: Eiko eagerly asks if she can begin already! We hover in the second floor lobby, silently taking note of the hung photographs of dance legends covering the walls. Those who have come before.

Showtime: I witness Eiko become still as the crowded lobby swirls around her. Dressed fully in white, she is altogether angelic and ghostly. Observers take notice, but most pass her by. Those who choose to stop and watch are enraptured by her calm. She looks, she listens. She pays mind to the space and the things that inhabit it - living and inanimate. She is present. She draws more and more people in as she progresses. Flowers are both gingerly distributed and smacked on the check-in desk. I watch as onlookers are taken with with her unconventional beauty. She cries out. She tips over the American flag. We move to the second floor and Rosemary becomes a part of our interaction with Eiko. She speaks to Eiko’s history, her body of work, her experiences as we observe projected video and photographs that support the narrative. Fukushima, Union Station, Jacob’s Pillow - Eiko’s body inhabiting all of these places filled with their own unique stories, sense of the sacred. Rosemary’s patient cantor contrasted with the purposeful intent from Eiko manipulating the projector images, coaxing the audience to crane our necks and follow.

As the question and answer portion unfolded, Eiko explained her yearning to be a part of each place she performs in, leaving a stain, changing it somehow. She spoke of trusting her audience to individually come to the work and take what resonates away with them. Growing up in post-war Japan, she explained gently, meant acquiring an innate sense of mourning. The color white - the color that she was clad in -  is traditionally a color associated with death. As Eiko patiently talked through the funeral ritual, she illustrated how loved ones place white chrysanthemums one by one on bodies of those that have died. White mums. The ones we couldn’t find today.

I thought of Sam Miller.

If I could talk to Sam, I would tell him how thankful I am for all he did to support Eiko. For how he spoke to me through Eiko’s performance - the first since his passing. Being with Eiko reminds me about what matters. Being with Eiko makes me feel I’m home, feel human again.

The dressing room was quiet as Eiko and I hugged goodbye. It wasn’t just the two of us. Sam was there. I know he was.