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Gifts From Sam | Eiko + Koma

Gifts From Sam (2018)

Gifts From Sam

Jacob’s Pillow: 1993
Sam invited Koma and me for the Pillow’s first winter residency. “Why us?” I asked in the snow.  His pragmatic and unflattering answer, “Few dancers and choreographers want to be in this cold.”

He commissioned a special photo session with us and photographer Philip Trager at the Pillow. I managed to become really ill during the residency and was hospitalized. Sam and his wife Anne visited me in the hospital. I have regrettably created several more occasions for him to worry.

During our first summer Pillow engagement, Sam said, “I am a bit different from other presenters you have worked with.”
“How?”
“I am quiet.”

Quiet as he was, through many years of working together, phone calls, emails, and texts, our conversations got increasingly revealing. However, I often irritated him by asking him to explain what he said and what I should have known but did not.


In Sam’s car driving to Wesleyan: 2005
Sam and I were going to the first CCR lunch meeting at Wesleyan University. CCR (the Center for Creative Research) is a collective of eleven not-so-young artists Sam gathered-- Ann Carlson, David Gordon, Pat Graney, Margaret Jenkins, Ralph Lemon, Liz Lerman, Bebe Miller, Dana Reitz, Elizabeth Streb, Jawole Zollar, and myself. Ain Gordon as a creative archivist and Dana Whitco as an insightful director completed CCR as a group. We met and talked, and various combinations of us worked with four academic institutions over time. Wesleyan was to become one of those campuses CCR frequented.

“Speak about your atomic bomb stuff without any hesitation. Speak up.” Sam said while driving. I was about to complete my MA thesis on atomic bomb literature.

I came out of this lunch meeting with an invitation to co-teach a course with history professor William Johnston, who later became my collaborator as a photographer. Working with Bill in the classroom and in irradiated Fukushima has become an important collaboration for me and teaching one course a year has made my life more purposeful. From my students came another group of gifted collaborators who helped the work of Eiko & Koma and myself.

Though CCR as a group with a budget and activities had to end some years later, the friendships continue. I also observed many CCR artists had major changes or shifts in their working lives, myself included. CCR and teaching at Wesleyan are two important gifts Sam gave me.


Coffee House: 2007
Sam asked me to meet him at a coffee house in my neighborhood. Strange as he usually enjoyed visiting and eating with us. But Sam had always chosen the place to meet.

“I am thinking you might want to present a retrospective of your work.”
I laughed, “No.  A retrospective is for dead artists. We are still alive and working! ” “That is the point. Performing artists cannot do a retrospective after death. Talk to Yuta and Shin before you talk to Koma.”

“It sounds crazy but if Sam suggests that, you should do it.” Our children trust “Uncle Sam.” Koma got on board.

The Retrospective Project is another big gift Sam gave Koma and me.


Walker Art Center: September 7, 2009
Sam and I met with a group of Walker Art Center curators and the director of publishing to discuss a Retrospective catalogue. The night before we had a “planning” dinner with Philip Bither. But it happened to be a big baseball night, so they kept themselves busy checking on the score. Not much planning.

The next morning after Philip and I spoke about the idea of a monograph of Eiko & Koma’s works, the chief curator said, “I understand the importance of such a book for your project and the field. But I question why the Walker has to publish the book.” Sam, who had not spoken until then, leaned into the table and said, “No, the Walker does not have to publish the book. It is an invitation. A book about performing artists during their career has to end somewhere. The Walker is commissioning Eiko & Koma to create a month-long performance installation. You have the opportunity to produce a book that ends with this important commission.”         

Brilliant persuasion. Sam always asked others to think and make own commitments.


Park Avenue Armory: spring of 2010
Sam talked to Kristy Edmunds so we got a studio on the fourth floor of the Armory to create the living installation Naked. We built an extensive environment, and he came to see it.

Sam had only one thing to say.
“Can the island move off center?”

Every morning during the run of a month in the Walker as we undressed to perform Naked, I looked at the island and was glad it moved off center.

Months later Lydia Bell told me that Sam thought our use of Kronos music was extraneous. But he would not tell us because, “they would figure it out.”

And we did.
For our new soundscape, we hung ten frozen water bottles so water dropped throughout the day.

American Dance Festival: June 28, 2010
Koma and I met C.D. Wright and her husband Forrest Gander through Sam’s rather persistent recommendation. When they decided to come to see our Retrospective Project at American Dance Festival, Sam flew there so he can be with them while Koma and I were busy with tech. Sam was childishly happy to be with the poets. The three oet friends.

Forrest presented our Retrospective Project at Brown University in the fall of 2011.

New York: February 2, 2011
One of our many Email chats.
“How about this title for the RIVER revival at Lincoln Center’s reflection pool? Time is a River”
“Doesn't quite work  - sounds like a folk music album”
A month later the piece was titled Water. Sam’s approved it.

Sam in hospital in Boston: June 2011
Anne received the Walker book and brought it to his hospital room.
He texted me, “it is exactly how I wanted it.”
I cried reading that. I worked hard on the book in his absence. What else, besides minding some perhaps-insignificant details, could I do while a friend was fighting for his life?

Sam’s essay in the book begins with the “why” of the retrospective. 

You go to the theater and see an artist you’ve cared deeply about for twenty five years. Each image on stage animates others from past productions.  You realize you are old. You look around and understand that for younger people sitting in front of  you, it might be their first time seeing this work. They too are moved, immersed in the same moments you are, and yet for them, the moments are memory free. The young people can’t go back in time.

Then matter of factly, he hides his in-detail tactics.

I suggested the idea of the Retrospective Project to the artists. Eiko and Koma first ran it by their sons, Shin and Yuta, and luckily it met their approval.

This is so typical of Sam. He specifically told me to talk to our kids before talking to Koma, before I even had any appetite for his idea. Once everything had gone according to his plot, he gave no credit to himself.

Eiko and Koma know how much of what they make is lost. We now know what might be saved. By saving a little, we are in fact saving a lot.
His eyes were both to the past and future. The present is always a stew of many different interests and circumstances one has to observe and negotiate with. That is curation. Sam was aware of the dynamics and limitedness of the present—some thing is gained, as something is lost. Sam willfully and skillfully orchestrated, even manipulated, many elements of life.

Sam closed his essay asking,
Now what shall we do next?

We -- Eiko and Koma, Sam, other presenters, and our team of assistants -- worked hard together for our Retrospective Project. Yet, this is one of many stories about Sam. Sam has deepened and expanded this sense of “we” with many other artists, curators, and funders through many projects he conceived and directed. So many of us in the field eagerly waited Sam’s return to “our” working and we were so grateful that he did.  Thank you Anne. Thank you doctors.


Governors Island: June 19, 2014
Dress rehearsal for Two Women at Governors Island Art Center. My first time performing without Koma. Sam said, “Can you extend the section after you stand up? You were on the floor for 48 min and standing section was only 4 minutes.”

My standing dance got extended to 7 minutes for these performances.


Philadelphia: Oct 3, 2014
My first solo performance at 30th Street Station. Koma, Sam and other friends came from New York for the first three hour ordeal. At the end as I exited from the station, I saw Sam run ahead of me to take a picture from the front catching audience members and station building in the background. I had never seen him run. I grinned inside.


New York: a beautiful spring day 2015
I was scared about continuing solo work and doing the Danspace Project Platform. Sam and I met at NYLA for a film but instead decided to have a walk. We walked all the way to the Brooklyn Bridge. He said, “Be diligent. It is the same Eiko, with or without Koma. And that is also true about Koma.”

Sam gifted both Koma and me new careers as soloists.

Sam stopped at a watch store in Soho. I learned, for the first time, he had different color wristbands that he changed according to his outfit.


Fulton Center: June 2015
I had asked to stop the hideously large and colorful on-screen advertisements at Fulton Center during my performance that Sam was producing but learned it was not possible. I did not think I could deliver the performance in such an environment and told Sam so. The next day I went to Fulton Center alone to reexamine the situation to make sure. I was surprised to find Sam there.

“What are you doing?”
“Nothing.”
“You cannot be here for no reason on Saturday morning.”
“Eiko, I really want you to perform here. This would be the first art event at the Fulton Center.”

I gave in. He must have sensed that I was going there that morning.
I have to admit I learned to enjoy making a contrast to an internet advertisement that flashed in crashing pink “Fast, Faster, Fastest.”
Sam made me tougher.


New York City: January 14, 2016
Sam called  and said “C.D. Wright passed away.” I screamed. C,D, and her husband Forrest had been with me in Chile  and left two days earlier. I had just arrived home that morning.

C.D, Forrest, and their Chilean friends recited their poems before my performances in Santiago. We had many meals together. C.D. had died during the night she arrived home.
I was tormented.

Sam called back later and said, “Eiko, think about this way. However sad, 67 is not a bad age to die. She was an amazing poet and at her best. Her work is deeply recognized. Her son is grown. She has taught many writers for decades.”


Sam’s home: November 8-10, 2016
I was asked to perform at a two-day memorial for C.D. Wright, and Sam invited me to stay at his home. Day and night, he played only Leonard Cohen who just died.

Sam helped me to hang the same but smaller photo exhibit C.D. saw in Chile. Sam also coached me on how to perform as a part of a memorial. He asked me to slow down at the beginning. “The first 5 minutes is for you to gain trust from people.”

Sam’s birthday dinner at his favorite restaurant with Anne. Sam cheerfully said the last time his birthday was on the presidential election day was when Kennedy won. As we ordered a desert, he checked the news and the mood changed. An awful, sleepless night began.

The next morning he took me to have a walk in the neighborhood where he grew up. He showed me his childhood house, the park where he played, and we walked the street where he had walked to and from his school. We could not talk much but I felt Sam is a real mensch. The woods and the river in the morning sun were beautiful.

At the reception following the memorial, I heard Sam say to Bill, “it sucks he is my last president.”

It was painful to be reminded that his heart was much heavier than my own. His matter of factness also made me think of so many other older people and people with grave illness feeling particularly heavy hearts that week.

We listened to more Leonard Cohen that night till late.
Wesleyan University: October 6, 2017
Sam came to the College of the Environment where I had an office for a year. I was working toward the performances at the Metropolitan Museum. I had set up a projector at a small conference room and rehearsed as Sam watched alone. 

“So?”
“You spoke about wanting to stain the Met walls with Fukushima images. You want to do that more clearly instead of moving a projector or interacting with it however interesting that is.”

That conversation made me think toward staining the Met walls not only by scenes of Fukushima but also by my performer’s body. I am a stain.


The Metropolitan Museum: November 19, 2017
I performed all day at each of the three Met locations. Because he was in LA on the previous two Sundays, Sam could only come to the last performance at the Met Fifth Ave. He came with Anne. That evening, I  received two texts from Sam.

Eiko @ Met
Arriving at 10:32
One wall seems contemplative
Strengthens the poetics, the language
"Further north, inland "
Change of light from skylight very affective
though it dilutes the projections
But creates a ghostly glow
As the clouds move across the sun on cue
Emphasizes the entropy of forgetting
Sound score works well
Long flat feet hit the cold hard floor
The art of intrusion
Effective transitions
The beach wall section!! (@11:30)
Great fade @11:36 to "broken town"
6 emblematic minutes
"flowers are wet with morning dew"
Who is writing this?
Still
Life
"The field remains unattended
but wildflowers grow"
At noon I like the domestic chores
Pouring water from the pitcher to the bowl
Washing the wall
Stained red calligraphy
"Everything humans make breaks
sooner or later"
As in nature.
And then one is left with the sound of the sea
As we leave at 12:57

        I can talk in ten minutes

Another text.
It was good.
It was like living in a Turner painting!

Sam knew how to advise and encourage but he also knew how to make me laugh when I am in a post performance low. So many gifts from Sam. 


Wesleyan University: March 2, 2018
I saw Sam after a few months of absence. He had been in and out of the hospital since January. We were excited to have him back at Wesleyan for ICPP.

Ben Pryor and I were guests to his class that became his last class. His voice was horse but Sam was clear, passionate, and unreserved. “Do not be an advocate of an institution that you work for. Be an advocate of artists you present.”  This was Sam’s authentic radicalism he preached and practiced. This was his grounded-to-life, grounded-to-love agitation.

I saw him last at the hotel restaurant that night. Sam joined my table with the College of the Environment colleagues and proudly spoke about CCR, with which I first came to Wesleyan 13 years ago.

May 1, 2018
The day brought incredible sadness. Koma, my children, many friends, ours and Sam’s, reached out to each other. Anne was so kind even on this day. Sam was 65 years old.


Jacob’s Pillow: July 14, 2018
Saturday, July 14th, Sam's tree was collectively planted at Jacob's Pillow by those who could come. It stands tall in front of the Duke theater, where Sam produced many shows, not too far from bigger, taller older trees. Many familiar faces were there, but younger presenters and choreographers also attended. Generations of the people growing and "us" getting older.

If some of them did not quite know of Sam, surely they learned not only who Sam was/is but how Sam was/is by listening to the passionate speeches friends and family members. Many Sams, the same Sam. Amazing Sam..

Sam's tree looks young and strong near the older trees. That feels right. Generations being together and shifting.

Pam very kindly asked me to do "something before and as people arrive to the tree."  It was a big task but I was/am grateful. I tried to talk to Sam to come to the tree, time to time. I did not want to turn the occasion into a performance. I just wanted to help out, to make the tree feel like Sam's tree, rather than a tree that is named as such. We so love this man and I wanted to ask Sam to come to rest at the tree as one of many spots of his continuous journey. Pam and I hoped that this tree will be one such place where we can talk to him in a slightly different mode than we do at our own places.

The day for Sam was at the place I began to know him as a Director of Jacob's Pillow. The Pillow is where I also began to know his family. Sam’s sons, Alex and Owen, are similar age to our boys and sometimes they, in their childhood, played together at the Pillow. The family brought Sam's ashes to offer to the tree.

As I performed and circled around the "Sam's Tree" while people were arriving, I thought about asking my body to remember his watching. I also thought about the other performers' bodies and minds Sam watched. Many of our friends who watched us have passed away. I have begun to think of a performer's body as a deposit of a gaze of the people who left us.

Many dear memories and the sense of a big empty space he left made me feel out of balance.  A migraine started.

I gazed at a few friends, then the tree, then the sky.

Then it started to rain. It rained hard. It rained hard when Sam came to see our River at Delware in 1995. It rained hard when I performed last summer at ICPP. Both times, I(we) made him worry.

The tree drank the rain.  It stood as quietly as Sam would have. 

I drank the rain and drank my tears.

The rain relieved my tension and melted my headache. Not sure where Sam was/is and how but it was as if he made the rain for the tree, for people there and for me.

It helped me to feel the rain and listen to Sam in his absence, the absence I have to accept--no matter how hard. In this thought, I could feel his curation/dramaturg the way he did and still does.

I thanked Anne for having worked and nursed so hard to give him and us an extra 7 years and having tried again this time though it did not work out. I thanked her and his family for having been so generous to have shared Sam, his brilliance, time, and wit with those of us who are grateful to be able to call him a friend.

I meant to say this quietly but I heard my thank you become a cry.

Sam, Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Friends, please visit Sam's tree at the Pillow.

Love, eiko