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The Duet Project: Distance is Malleable | Eiko + Koma
The Duet Project: Distance is Malleable
Painting by Beverly McIver

The Duet Project: Distance is Malleable

Throughout her long career, Eiko has explored various ways to maximize her encounters with collaborating artists of varied backgrounds and practices. Eiko and Koma had a rich history of collaboration between themselves and with other artists such as Kronos Quartet, Margaret Leng Tan, and Robert Mirabal. Since she started to work as a soloist, she has found herself even more eager to work with others.

In fact, Two Women, her first duet with another female, Tomoe Aihara, was presented at 2014 River To River Festival before Eiko's solo project. Her first solo performances, a 12-hour marathon at Philadelphia Station, was accompanied by shakuhachi (Japanese flute) player Ralph Samuelson. Her first Talking Duet was initiated by Emmanuelle Huynh and was presented at 2015 River To River Festival. Poets C.D.Wright and Forrest Gander flew to Santiago, Chile to work with Eiko in 2016. Eiko invited eight artists, including Emmanuelle to Talking Duets presented as a part of 2016 Danspace Project's Platform: A Body in Places. DonChristian Jones, Valda Setterfield, and Forrest Gander also participated in the Platform as collaborators. Subsequently, Eiko performed a scored improvisation with Okwui Okpokwasili at 2016 River To River Festival. Eiko also acknowledges that her on-going collaborations with photographer William Johnston, filmmaker Alexis Moh and dramaturg Iris McCloughan have also been dancing duets. Learning from these prior collaborations and recognizing the desire to make herself more available to converse and work with artists of diverse backgrounds, Eiko launched multi-year, multi-faced Duet Project:Distance is Malleable in 2017.

The creative process of the Duet Project is on-going and partly visible to the public, and interdisciplinary collaborations have resulted in videos, installations, performances, and other material that contextualizes each encounter. Not every participating artist performs a duet in the classical sense, tours with Eiko, or is seen live by audiences.

Difference is an engine of inquiry. Each collaboration will develop in unexpected yet specific ways and informs the direction, content, and shape of each public presentation. Eiko and her collaborators investigate the following questions: How can two artists collide and return changed but whole? How can two individuals encounter and converse over their differences with or without words? How can we express both explicitly and implicitly what each of us really cares about?

In-progress showings and conversations have occurred during Eiko’s creative residencies at Wesleyan University in CT; the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation on Captiva Island, FL (November 2017); Cassilhaus in North Carolina (July 2018); The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC (November 2018); Temple University (March 2019); Alfred University (June 2019) and/or in presenters’ own communities.

The Duet Project officially premiered at the American Dance Festival in Durham, NC in July 2019. DonChristian Jones, Iris McCloughan, Beverly McIver, and Alexis Moh performed with Eiko at the occasion.

Collaborating artists include poets, musicians, visual artists and family members. Participants are of different colors, ages, cultures, languages, professional and artistic fields, ways of life, and training.

Below are the collaborators on The Duet Project who Eiko has worked with so far from 2017 through 2019.

With David Brick (choreographer)
With Ann Carlson (choreographer)
With Ishmael Houston-Jones (choreographer, performer, curator)
With DonChristian Jones (rapper, painter)
With Forrest Gander (poet)
With William Johnston (photographer, historian)
With John Killacky (video artist, the Vermont House of Representatives)
With Margaret Leng Tan (pianist)
With Beverly McIver (painter)
With Iris McCoughan (poet, performer)
With Alexis Moh (film maker)
With Ralph Samuelson (musician)
With Merian Soto (choreographer)
With Chitra Vairavan (dancer, performer)

When two living artists work together it is a celebration of living (and a preparation of dying), foreseeing the time when one of the two inevitably dies and becomes a memory of the other. Eiko will also work with artists who have passed away. Creating a duet with the deceased means absorbing their work and learning their thoughts in imagined conversations guided by memories and artifacts. How do we live and communicate with the dead? The question is pertinent because most of the art works we study or experience were created generations ago. It is also urgent for Eiko that she continue to converse with those who inspired and helped her plan this project.

With Chikuha Otake (painter)
With C.D.Wright (poet)
With Sam Miller (dance presenter)

Eiko Otake’s The Duet Project: Distance is Malleable a mutable and evolving series of experiments in collaboration. Its creation was made possible in part with support from the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project, the Japan Foundation’s Performing Arts Japan program, the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts dance programs, and Dance/NYCs’ Dance Advancement Fund.

The Duet Project is co-commissioned by the 2019 American Dance Festival, with support from a Doris Duke/SHS Foundation Award for New Works, and the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA.