Eiko & Koma
by Carmel Morgan
September 14 , 2011 -- Robert & Arlene Kogod Theatre, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland, College Park, MD
Eiko & Koma are artists-in-residence at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center during the 2011-2012 season. Lucky DC area residents thus have the opportunity to see three performances by the couple, including a free performance with the Kronos Quartet in February and a free outdoor installation piece, the Caravan Project in May. To kick off the season, Eiko & Koma performed “Regeneration,” part of their Retrospective Project, which reflects on the roughly 40 years that have elapsed since the pair first met, and the 35 years since they moved to New York. Few in the dance world can boast of careers of that length!
In “Regeneration,” the audience witnessed three works: “Raven” (2010), “Night Tide” (1984), and an excerpt from “White Dance” (1976). According to program notes, “Raven,” the most recently conceived of the three works, was inspired by memories of 1991’s “Land” and carries the theme of hunger. Eiko & Koma chose to adapt the same score that accompanied “Land,” by Pueblo musician and Native American flute player and maker Robert Mirabal, for use in “Raven.” The music was stark and haunting, as was the set (scorched canvas, black feathers, and straw) and the dancing.
In addition to Mirabal’s score, silence and the sounds of nature (a bird squawk or a symphony of bug noises, for example) played an important role in “Raven.” Much of the movement was deliberately, painfully slow. With their mostly bare skin largely covered in white, there was something otherworldly about the piece, but also something very grounded, too. Eiko & Koma told their tale of the raven through their bodies, and they did so with exquisite perfection. In beautiful shapes (one caught multiple glimpses of Eiko’s amazingly long outstretched toes), they communicated devastation and longing, seeming at once human and non-human. At one point, Koma pressed a fistful of feathers into Eiko’s back, and another fistful into her face. Later she crouched atop him like a bird, her knees digging into his back. At yet another point, her chin hooked over his shoulder, and their two heads locked side by side. She gurgled an occasional unintelligible exclamation. It was a pleasure to partake in the soundscape, the landscape, and the peoplescape they so carefully constructed.
Next came “Night Tide,” during which the scorched earth of “Raven” became the ocean. Two naked bodies, each in a separate pool of light, formed curious sea creatures. Eiko & Koma each held their rear ends aloft, their faces bent toward the floor and their feel tucked under them. The sounds accompanying this work were designed by Eiko & Koma, and they reminded me of the echoes one might hear as a submarine descends, or of a heartbeat in amniotic fluid. Rarely have I been so aware of the spine. Its curves and undulations were accented as the pair eventually crawled toward one another. “Night Tide” evoked a sense of fragility and rebirth. Although they began apart on the stage, the couple came together bit by bit, climaxing as Eiko’s arms clung to Koma’s neck.
The evening closed with an approximately 25-minute excerpt from “White Dance,” which originally lasted 55 minutes. I enjoyed this excerpt the most. Here, a Bach harpsichord concerto and colorful kimono-like costumes enlivened things considerably. Eiko & Koma moved much move quickly and heartily in “White Dance” than in the earlier works on the program. Koma, especially, became livelier, doing martial arts swirls across the stage. I felt the presence of a sense of humor that lifted some of the heaviness of the two previous pieces. In “White Dance” the couple, with incredible expression, evoked strong images of fighting, of indifference, of maybe the essence of love. Unlike the somber “Raven” and “Night Tide,” they seemed to engage more with the audience through direct eye contact. “White Dance” tossed out many delightful surprises, sometimes literally: a gorgeous moth projection faded into the backdrop, and Eiko, arms taking flight, faded into it as well; and potatoes landed with satisfying thuds as Koma littered the stage with them and then shuffled among them with Eiko strewn over his back.
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