The haunting, riveting performance works of Eiko & Koma
have been among the New York dance scene’s most fascinating and unique events
for 35 years. With their extreme slowness, these married dance collaborators
distill movement to its essence and invite attentive focus on detail and
nuance. Evoking a deep connection to elements of nature and the earth’s
primordial forces, their dance works challenge audiences to let go of
preconceived expectations about movement, and alter their approach to watching.
The couple met in 1971 at a Tokyo dance studio, and very
quickly began living and working together. Forty years later, their three-year
Retrospective Project is examining and celebrating this seminal collaboration
with events in museums, theaters and outdoors locations. It has included
several New York events—most recently in March, when Eiko & Koma performed
their stunning Naked: A Living Installation at Baryshnikov Arts Center.
The Retrospective comes to Lincoln Center this month, in a
big way. In addition to an innovative installation opening this week at the New
York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Eiko & Koma will perform Water, a world premiere set to original commissioned score performed live by flutist-composer Robert Mirabal, in the well-known reflecting pool
on the northern portion of the campus. They have often performed in outdoor
settings—as well as museum galleries—and Water is inspired by River, an hour-long work they have performed in rivers and
ponds since 1995. Earlier this month, they performed it for the third time at
the American Dance Festival.
Last week, as the late-afternoon sun cast animated patterns
on the pool, curious but respectful passersby were surprised to see a
fine-boned woman in a flowing white robe moving with graceful intensity in the
pool’s shallow water—a fragile figure alongside the massive Henry Moore
sculpture that is usually its sole resident. Eiko was testing out the spacing
for Water, she explained after she
concluded her delicate explorations but remained standing at the pool’s
perimeter. Koma, in a black T-shirt and jeans, sat on the eastern edge of the
pool to observe and make suggestions.
When performing River,
the couple enter from upstream and the action progresses downstream; the
audience watches from one side of the river bank. As striking as the pool and
its surrounding area—including the nearby sloping lawn—may be, the atmosphere
is notably different. “It’s very urban. There is no upstream or downstream, and
the water is shallower than when we perform in a river,” Eiko said. “This new
piece is not the same, but we bring certain elements.” The free performances,
which launch this year’s Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors Festival, begin at 9:30
p.m., and people can watch from three sides of the vast rectangular pool.
A short stroll away from where Water will be performed, final preparations were taking
place at the Library for the July 19 opening of Residue: An
Installation by Eiko & Koma. They are
transforming the gallery into a unique environment that summons up and
juxtaposes much of the work they have created over four decades. Many videos of
their works—filmed live performances as well as specially designed media
dances—can be viewed. Some are projected onto walls, but many are projected in
video boxes over which the viewer stands, looking down at the screen, making it
an intensely private experience. The earliest video, from 1980, shows them
performing Event Fission, their
earliest site-specific outdoor work, on the Hudson River landfill in front of
the then-new Twin Towers.
In the center of the space is an intimate teahouse whose
walls consist of the same magnificent canvas dappled with small dark feathers
and other natural elements, which formed the entryway for Naked. Inside, a 47-minute video of Naked, created specially for this installation, will be
projected onto a circular pool of water.
Hung side by side along one expanse of wall are sets and
materials representing more than 25 years of Eiko & Koma’s work, including
one created specifically for this installation that we might see in a future
performance that we can only imagine now. There are backdrops, floor coverings,
a driftwood sculpture from River and the
stunning hand-sewn silkworm cottontree trunk that anchored their 1998 Tree. A similarly extensive and varied group of costumes
hangs along another wall—striking and surprising garments, each with its own
story to tell.
Through their intensely honest, often exposed bodies and
such basic, functional and insightful design elements, Eiko & Koma have
captivated, and illuminated through works that defy categorization and reward
deep contemplation. New York is fortunate to be their home base and the site of
so many memorable performances, and this month at Lincoln Center they offer
both recollection as well as their newest exploration.
July 27–31, Paul Milstein Pool, Herst Plaza, Lincoln Center,
Residue: An Installation by Eiko & Koma
July 19–Oct. 30, Vincent Astor Gallery, New York Public
Library for the Performing Arts, 111 Amsterdam Ave. (at 65th St.),