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Nature is Embraced in Movement Piece | Eiko + Koma
Nature is Embraced in Movement Piece
Photo by Anna Lee Campbell

Nature is Embraced in Movement Piece

  • Washington Post, February 17, 2012
  • Lisa Traiger

Being nude on stage isn't so hard. Just take your clothes off. But being naked? That's far more challenging.

"Naked is different than nude," says Eiko, of the contemporary performance duo Eiko & Koma, which performs its newest work, "Fragile," at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center next week. "Nude," she adds, "has different implications about the objectivity of the body, its selling and buying and seducing, and about the intentionality of being nude or being seen nude."

"Fragile" is based on an earlier work the duo called "Naked," and, like that one, they will perform without clothing. But, as Eiko points out, they won't be nude. "Naked is more existential and more interesting," she says. "What's important for me is the nakedness itself. Nude has sexual connotations, but the main idea with naked is it's the whole body and the whole mind that is present."

The Japanese American couple have been making singular movement pieces together since 1972, a year after they met in Japan. They found their way to Tatsumi Hijikata's company in Tokyo, where butoh, the distinctive brand of dance and theater that evolved in the apocalyptic period after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since 1976, Eiko and Koma have developed their one-of-a-kind style, performing in theaters, festivals, galleries, in a trailer-like caravan, in a river, beneath a tree and in parks and gardens. "Fragile" will be presented in the comfort of the intimate Kogod Theatre, but its four-hour length lends it the feel of a gallery installation. Audience members can stay for a few moments or for the entire work.

In a bow to the butoh tradition, Eiko and Koma frequently paint their bodies with white rice powder and decorate the stage with natural elements - branches, leaves, feathers, stones, dirt, even rice. They inhabit a world that's part human and part animal, their movement sometimes so excruciatingly slow that they appear still, until you realize they've changed positions.

Eiko jokes that looking back to their earliest performances, they were often semi-nude or nude. But, she says, "we were so young and looking very beautiful that it maybe looked more like nude photos in an artistic way. Now as we get older, our bodies age and our naked pieces, they become even more naked."

The experimental group Kronos Quartet will accompany the performers, and there are sure to be some surprises. Ten days out, the group's founder, David Harrington, was still imagining the musical possibilities.

"I'm thinking of the music for the evening as presents to [Eiko and Koma] from each of us individually and from our group," said Harrington, who is an avid collaborator with the innovative dance duo whenever the opportunity arises. "I'm also hoping the audience will have no idea what's going to happen next."