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Raven and Fission Milwaukee | Eiko + Koma
<i>Raven</i> and <i>Fission</i> Milwaukee
photo by Claire A. Ruzicka

Eiko and Koma: Birth and death again and again and…

  • Third Coast Digest, July 24, 2011
  • Tom Strini

Saturday, Eiko and Koma distorted their bodies to the point that they might have been alien species amid the desolation of a dry pond at the Lynden Sculpture Garden. And yet, their Raven and then Fission specifically embodied human vulnerability and inevitable decay. The two dancers, both of a certain age, laid bare the existential condition.

Eiko, dressed in rags and powdered cadaverous white in Butoh fashion, moved slowly through the mud and gravel to open Raven. She made her way to a low platform strewn with raven feathers and straw. Her patience slowed down the clock and heightened perception. The audience, about 250 gathered on the southern and western edges of the little dry pond, quieted. I became keenly aware of the cries of birds.

Eiko sank to a prone position on the platform. She looked prayerful and formal, with her chin and bare insteps pressed just so against the wood. Ever so slowly, she tucked and turned on her side, found her way to her back, and slowly raised her left foot and flexed it impossibly. She somehow scuttled along sideways, like a crab, to a mound of sand and raven feathers. She made herself hard to read as a human being, in a way, even as her contortion spoke of human distortion and suffering.

The whole of it suggested a difficult birth, the completion of which involved rising to her feet and reaching to the sky with arms extended by sheaves of straw. This incantation turned out to be futile, as she collapsed limb by limb and joint by joint, like a building demolished by sequential explosions.

She rose again to meet Koma, who arrived hugging an armload of raven feathers. They engaged in close heavy contact, both on and off their feet. They combined to doubly distort the human form and to obliquely suggest procreation, birth, the striving and struggle of life, and a sinking back into the earth.

As they lay still on the platform at the end of Raven, two men built fires of feather and straw maybe 15 feet from the platform on either side. (Why did these fellows wear regular street clothes? The non-costumes dampened the ceremonial vibe of the event.)

That marked the beginning of Fission. Koma left Eiko lying and walked to a buckets of flour and water. He coated himself with a slurry of the two. Eiko eventually followed suit. They staggered as if mortally wounded across the forbidding micro-landscape of the pond bed. They finally sagged to the muddy earth. Their poses and relative positions mimicked corpses in a photograph of post-bomb Hiroshima that Koma had shown me on Wednesday. The flour matched the grays of the ash-encrusted bodies in that photo.

They rose again and made a long, walking-wounded trek toward the high ground and filled lake just to the southwest. Eiko opened a coda specific to the Lynden Garden when she emerged from behind a large shrub 150 or so feet away. She made her way to a beautiful flower bed on a mound across the pond and sprawled into it as if starved for beauty. Koma, arms laden this time with hydrangeas, followed after a little while. He covered the “sleeping” Eiko with the blossoms. A Garden of Eden scenario.

Of course a fall followed, but a charming, whimsical fall. Like children at play, Eiko and Koma rolled their separate ways down the long slope and back to the dry pond bed. They rejoined and sank back into the mire, but this time more peaceably. A good death. Maybe even a redemptive death.

Alverno Presents and the Lynden Sculpture Garden co-produced this one-time event.