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Eiko & Koma and Kronos Quartet


by Carmel Morgan

February 22, 2012-- Robert & Arlene Kogod Theatre, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland, College Park, MD

Eiko & Koma, in the second installment of their artist-in-residence performance series at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, joined the renowned Kronos Quartet and presented a free world premiere entitled “Fragile.” “Fragile” lasted an impressive four hours, with a single twenty-minute pause. Audience members could enter and depart the theatre as they wished. The black box theatre held a few crate-like benches and a handful of black floor cushions. The seating options seemed designed to prompt people to sit for only short spells. In addition, the large pile of dark earthy soil and feathers on top of which Eiko and Koma’s bodies gently moved smelled strongly. This pungent smell also seemed designed to limit viewing time.

Nevertheless, many in the audience stayed put for lengthy intervals, if not hours. The combination of Eiko & Koma plus the Kronos Quartet, in such an intimate setting, simply mesmerized. They exerted a powerful force that kept people in place, despite the uncomfortable seating and the room’s less than pleasant odor. The theatre was eerily quiet, even some patrons came and went. Things that looked like hornets’ nests hung from the ceiling beneath the lights, making intricate, mobile patterns on the stage below. Achingly beautiful music cut through the shadows as Eiko and Koma, naked and remaining mostly on their backs, slowly reached toward each other, or equally slowly curled and turned away. I can confidently state that I’ve never before seen a man’s bare ass lifted directly in front of a violinist during a performance, but I witnessed this and more in “Fragile.”

“Fragile” was appropriately named, as Eiko and Koma could hardly have appeared more vulnerable. The members of the Kronos Quartet wore all black and sat in chairs behind the dancers. The musicians receded into the background, while Eiko and Koma’s pale skin glowed. Completely naked, except for the white powdery makeup covering their bodies, they looked like tiny birds, twisted, just hatched and dropped on the ground. They grappled with painful memories – violence and destruction and betrayal. Sound clips from Japanese student riots and TV newscasts reporting on last year’s devastating earthquake in Japan accompanied some of the performance. And yet the pair also imparted a feeling of peace. You could sense healing in the atmosphere. A recording of the Peace Bell from Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park played every ten minutes throughout the performance.

Selections from the Kronos Quartet varied. A note explained that “Fragile” was not about Kronos playing music that would suit the dance’s concept. The idea, apparently, was just to have Kronos play in the presence of Eiko & Koma’s nakedness, with Kronos delivering the music as a gift, “[l]ike visiting an old friend in a hospital.” Therefore, sometimes the music worked well with the dancing, and sometimes it didn’t work particularly well. But even when the music kind of clashed with what Eiko & Koma were doing, it was interesting, and I felt that the live music definitely enhanced the overall experience. I especially enjoyed hearing “Escalay (The Water Wheel)” by Hamza El Din (realized by Tohru Ueda). The lively complexity of the music provided a satisfying contrast to the Eiko & Koma’s protracted physical movement.

While taking a break from “Fragile,” people could check out the “Tea House,” which featured a video of Eiko & Koma set in the floor of a freestanding square structure in the performing arts center’s lobby. Viewers could sit on cushions and peer down into a screen onto which water slowly dripped from above. The water drops rippled across images of Eiko & Koma. The walls of the structure were built of scorched canvas and black feathers, with tiny holes here and there through which one could also sneak a peek at the interior and the video installation.

Elsewhere, in the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library, was an exhibit of costumes and along with videos of past performances. Both the tea house and the library exhibit were part of “Residue,” a tribute to and reflection on the legacy of Eiko & Koma. In taking a stroll through the small exhibit space, signs encouraged patrons to touch but not tug the costumes. Indeed, the costumes begged to be touched. They offered a feast of textures, including one incredibly lovely piece of fabric woven with actual autumn leaves.

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