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Eiko & Koma: The Japanese dancers dip into Water | Eiko + Koma
Eiko & Koma: The Japanese dancers dip into Water
photo by Anna Lee Campbell

Eiko & Koma: The Japanese dancers dip into Water

  • Time Out New York, July 18, 2011
  • Gia Kourlas

In honor of their three-year Retrospective Project, the Japanese artists Eiko & Koma are making a special stop at Lincoln Center, where, remarkably, they have never performed. In Water, a new, site-specific performance in the Paul Milstein Pool at the complex’s Hearst Plaza, the dancers will expand upon ideas in previous works—Elegy (1984), Lament (1985) and Passage (1989)—but River (1995) is most on their mind. Earlier this month, they reprised the work, which takes place in a body of moving water, at the American Dance Festival in Durham, North Carolina. In it, they journey downstream, hinting at the passage of life and time. Their latest experiment in water immersion takes place in a man-made reflecting pool; despite the artificiality, Eiko and Koma’s bodies will give a sense of the natural world by showing the way water can sustain life and, as evident by the horrific recent events in Japan, destroy it.

“Why does Eiko & Koma like water?” Koma asks a few yards away from the pool. “We came out of water in the womb. Often we cry—with pleasure, with sadness. Water is very important. You need it for the muscles and the joints. The title Water is kind of a nickname. What’s more important is the idea of fluidity.”

The flutist Robert Mirabal will play his score live—yes, he too will be in the water—during the run, which will be shown nightly at 9:30pm and coincides with an exhibition at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, “Residue: An Installation by Eiko & Koma.” That show, which continues through October, will feature a tea house, along with costumes and set pieces dating to 1978.

Performing in water, the artists say, requires a sense of acceptance. “I think that it’s not about resistance or fighting it,” Eiko says. “It’s where we come from, but we’re not really in it anymore, so it takes a little bit of getting used to. It’s like revisiting an old friend. You have to go slowly.”

For Koma, the sensation is of a gradual saturation of the flesh. “You feel your body start to melt or get softer, like when you pour milk on cornflakes. After five minutes, it gets soggy. The body starts to feel heavier. We become part of the water.”

And as the public watches from dry land, Eiko and Koma become something of a different species. “At the same time, people are looking at something that is very familiar, which is this reflection pool,” Eiko says. “Once we start to perform, I hope that people actually start to feel the water—not just a nicely designed reflection pool. We don’t want to walk to it and get in and walk out. We want to stay there.” Or as her collaborator puts it, “I’m not Koma anymore. Eiko is not Eiko. We are just small beings, the same as fish. That’s the part I really like.”
Eiko & Koma present Water at the Paul Milstein Pool Wed 27–Sun 31.

Online exclusive: Excerpts from a conversation with Eiko & Koma
Paul Milstein Pool and Terrace
July 8, 2011

Eiko: This is basically our place. I think it’s one of the nicest places in New York City. The Henry Moore [Reclining Figure] is nice, and it’s a reflection pool. I hate fountains.

How deep is it?
Eiko: [Dashes to the edge of the pool and uses her arm like a measuring stick; it reaches her elbow.] We can’t really do total immersion except when we lie down, which we are good at [Laughs]. We can be pretty much watery, and we also like that there is always a little wind because of the buildings. So the surface is not always still.
Koma: Starting this afternoon, we start to rehearse inside of the pool. But always we have a security guard for when kids see us and say, “Oh, may I come in? May I join?”
Eiko: It’s very inviting, if they see us having a good time. Today we are investigating.

How did Water happen?
Eiko: We knew that Charles Reinhart [of the American Dance Festival] wanted us to revive River. And we haven’t performed that for a very long time. He is retiring; he has been very supportive of our work, and River is his favorite piece, so we decided to do that for his retirement year. It also gave us an opportunity to revisit River, so by doing this right after, I made it very clear that this piece is inspired by River. It’s like how River is inspired by Land. It’s a way for us to look back, but not to really do it in the same way necessarily. At ADF we actually did it pretty much the way River was, but it’s kind of silly to have River here. We want the same feeling of River in a very different environment. By putting this in water, we can kind of remember some of the things. It’s a retrospective project in a creative way. I thought this is nice because, remember, this year is all free. So this is a nice place to offer the end-of-the-season free concert because this [public space] is very democratic.

And you will be joined in the water by flutist Robert Mirabal?
Eiko: Yes, we invited Robert. This is a big thing of the retrospective: Part of it is reconnecting. He performed with us at Danspace Project, and he wanted to come again, and I thought that this was a nice place for Robert because not too many musicians can sit in water for a long time, but he can. He is a Native American. Anyplace they sit is a reminder that there was land, there were people—it’s true of anyplace in the USA—that there were people who belonged to the land. This is a nice reminder.
Koma: It’s good for us and good for him, too, because water makes us humble. When you feel the rain, you feel grateful. It cleans up the dirt.
Eiko: And you know, we performed this piece in 11 different places and we really worked with environmental activists, and it was nice that we weren’t only working with arts presenters but with people who are concerned with environment. So things come together: the moon comes in, there’s the wind breezing in different ways, and a little rain makes patterns onto the water—all that happens. I think that this project is one of our most interesting ones. We really went to different places, and our idea is that each river is different but once we are in it—and maybe 45 minutes later—people slowly forget the name of the river or the pond and start to see everything that’s connected. It is very beautiful. And it’s very liberating for me; I’m performing as well as I can, but at the same time I’m just a part of this large environment.

In that way, it’s very different from the environments you create, right?
Eiko: Yes. They are very contrived, sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a dangerous way. We really go into someplace. Here, we are a visitor. My clothes are wet, my hair is wet. I don’t have to do very much to make a beautiful addition. It’s not like I have to do a fantastic movement. I need to be more about surrender.

Have you performed in contaminated water?
Koma: One time we performed the River piece in Pittsburgh and it was… [Shakes his head] Oh.
Eiko: I got poisoned. I went to the emergency room twice. Twice! Two days in a row. We were working with an environmental group, so we always check the water, right? And the water came out okay, because the city allowed people to do water sports there. But they didn’t check the riverbed, and Pittsburgh had this history…. So all the poison was in the riverbed. I started to feel dizzy. I thought I was a little sick or something. So I was just performing as I would, and then by the middle of it I had this ringing headache. We got off the shore and I was vomiting and crawling with pain. Right away. Throughout [the performance] I was sick, but I had to finish it. And then I was taken by ambulance and spent five hours in the hospital. The next day I thought that we would cancel the show, but people were already coming, so Koma said, “Let’s do this, but we shouldn’t be too indulging”—like we should stay off [the riverbed]. But because I had the trauma, I had the same experience again. I went back to the hospital and for the next month every day at the same time I had a migraine. It was post-trauma syndrome. I had to go to a specialist. I was okay. That was so silly. It was my fault.
Koma: Compared to that, the city water…
Eiko: It’s nothing. It’s not that I am drinking heavily.

You keep your mouth shut!
Eiko: [Laughs] But you know it’s more attractive when your mouth is open.

Just pretend you’re in Mexico taking a shower.
Eiko: Exactly. I think I’ll be fine. And I’m totally happy. This is a center with all of the performing arts. We don’t do that at all. We are like downtown, but it’s okay to be seen here. [There was talk of doing] this in Central Park in a pond, but that’s not really it. The water itself is still not that natural there. This is almost the opposite. This is a landscape that doesn’t pretend it is nature. Except I hope that by the time we are two-thirds through, not the nature, but the sense of the water will come through. Well, it’s not water’s fault. It’s the same water.
Koma: This water was made in upstate New York. It was not made in Manhattan. It’s flowing.
Eiko: Water has that transcendence. It has that calming sense of transcending time.

Highlights from “Residue: Installation by Eiko & Koma”
July 20–Oct 30, 2011

Materials and sets from performances
Wind, 1993
Cambodian Stories, 2006
Be With, 2001
Thirst, 1985
Hunger, 2008
Tree, 1988
Rust, 1989
River, 1995
Fission, 1980
Before the Cock Crows, 1978

Costumes from performances
Hunger, 2008
Wind, 1993
Grain, 1983/2007
Fur Seal, 1997
White Dance, 1976/2010
River, 1995
Offering, 2002
Trilogy, 1979–81
Death Poem, 2005

July 18, 2011