Eiko & Koma, San Francisco

Written by:
John Sullivan
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Eiko & Koma

Retrospective Project: “Regeneration”
“Raven” (2010)
“Night Tide” (1984)
“White Dance” (1976)
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts – Forum, San Francisco
March 22-24, 2012

“…As I wander along the beach around the lake,
I sense under every step I make
The softness of fallen corpses,
O dead moths,
And so I know that I am nothing more,
Than a tiny shadow in the moonlight night.”
Mitsuharu Kaneko
(from the original program notes for “White Dance”)

Black feathers strewn on a groundcover of burned and scorched canvas. A crow squawks. Silence. Through a heap of feathers, an inaudible, partially naked, ash-dusted body moves at the non-speed of a glacier. Silence. A feather drops from Eiko’s raven colored hair. In this spacious silence with distilled archetypal movement, “Raven” first appears to be a Japanese tale in the Butoh style. Then, out of a distance blue, the beating of an indigenous American Indian drum pierces the empty space transporting Eiko’s insect-like distortions and primal scavenging to another sphere. Crow squawks fade to war cries as Robert Mirabal’s score of intense Northern New Mexico drumming and native chanting rattles the silence. Transcendent, Eiko is both raven and all of humanity. She is every native person through all time and space gathering loose reeds into her hands like torches or arrows. Koma enters with handfuls of pompom-like feathers and smashes them into Eiko’s breasts. They become the original man and woman, the mythic and ordinary serpent and eagle, primal craving, universal appetite and hunger. At one point, Eiko perches herself on Koma’s back with her bent arms stretched out like tattered wings, just as a raven would sit on its find, taking from it as it desires.

“Raven” was inspired by their 1991 piece, “Remembering Land,” for which Mirabal’s score was originally created and adapted for this piece. It was created specifically for their retrospective project, “Regeneration,” to show a completed work, as both “Night Tide” and “White Dance” are excerpts from longer, full-evening pieces. In “Raven” is the culmination and refinement of the 40 years of partnership and collaboration by two creative geniuses who have utterly merged with their art form. And, thanks to this alchemy, they create a tangible intimacy with themselves and a deep intimacy with their audience — a closeness rarely experienced in performance art/dance, although frequently attempted.

Night Tide” was inspired by the tale of two mountains that make love in the middle of the night before returning to their home before the light of dawn. It begins with both performers naked, face down, with their buttocks high in the air on disparate sides of the stage. Koma’s movement appears mostly stationary, as Eiko undulates, ever slowly, toward him. The journey takes an eternity, with Koma’s micro movement seldom extending into full body extension. Dimly spotlighted, they sluggishly make their way through an electronic sonar soundscape with bagpipes wafting faintly throughout. Both sound and movement conspire to create a hypnotic and haunting experience. Eiko and Koma finally come together in reserved climatic bliss. (There are moments when you wonder whether or not they will ever connect. And, the fear that they might accidently pass each other by.) Their union culminates only for a few seconds before they disengage, bringing “Night Tide” to its dramatic end. (Such is the sex life of mountains…) “Night Tide” is an exquisite dreamscape reflecting a constant theme throughout Eiko and Koma’s work — that of joy being fleeting, perhaps even less tangible, than the enduring beauty of grief and decay.

White Dance” is the couple’s first choreographed piece and ends the show instead of beginning it. The piece serves as an historical reference, not only for their retrospective but also for the experimental period of the mid 1970s. It reflects that experimentation through a wider range and variety of choices used throughout this piece, which at times appear more haphazardly than in their later works. Some of those approaches, such as interacting with a projected image, as when Eiko undulates movement against the canvas of projected decorative moths, effectively blur the line between live performance and projection. She brings animation to still imagery while becoming part of the projection, yet remaining distinct— at the same time distorting the stage’s physical space. Voice is also used as an additional element rather than narrative.

When “White Dance” finished, some 30 minutes after its beginning, and Eiko and Koma were presented with bouquets of flowers, their stylized bows slid seamlessly into a brief, encore performance. Reaching out their bouquets like flashlights into eternity, flowers falling from their grasps, they returned to the their greatest passion — their dance and meditation on death. As we, the audience, as art, and as both their intimate and professional relationship all fade with beauty and horror into time.


Retrospective Project: Regeneration was the last performance in a two-week residency celebrating Eiko & Koma’s long history with San Francisco. This residency included an exhibition and installation documenting their 40-year collaboration and another performance and collaboration with the Kronos Quartet titled, “Fragile.

David Moreno

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