CriticalDance Forum

Bytom 2008 - Eiko & Koma "Mourning"
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Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Wed Jul 09, 2008 9:35 am ]
Post subject:  Bytom 2008 - Eiko & Koma "Mourning"

Two performances in one about mourning

by Anna Hackieiwcz

It seems that we saw two related performances about „Mourning” on the stage. One played on piano by Margaret Leng Tang, the famous, avant-garde pianist, and the Japanese modern dancers, Eiko& Koma. This collaboration was initiated by the Japanese Social Istitution in New York.
„At our first meeting, we were working for three hours to find a connection between my music and the dancing,” said Margaret. As a result, we saw two separate dramas in one performance. On the one hand it was a dance of „moving pictures” played by Eiko and Koma. The artists move in their own style, rather than following any particular traditional japanese form. One question came to - whether they are dancing or not?

The dancers' movements remind us of human suffering and also that of animals. Eiko & Koma's performance was more theatrical than dance. They are both impressed by the Butoh dance style of Kazuo Ohno, however, I think they only take from Butoh the feeling of catharsis, which is in the dancers and afterwards in the audience.

The scenography and the dancers were creating a single metaphorical picture. We observe the slow unfolding of the visions which compose the story, but in a deconstructed composition of time. It negates the „jo-ha-kyo” time (beginning-middle-the end) rule in Japanese traditional dance. The artists presented in the middle of the performance a picture of primitiveness which perhaps whould be better at the beginnig. As Margaret Leng Tang said- I shouldn't care about the sequence of pictures, because the most important in this show is the universal vision of mourning.”

What is different than in traditional Japanese dance productions is that the music played a separate role in this performance. Mrs Leng Tang was playing her piano composition in her own time alongside the dancing. Her repertoire sounds like John Cage's music, including plucking the piano strings. It is a „...kind of music we once thought is impossible to dance with,” said Eiko and Koma, „but we are exploring with Margaret dancing a mourning and to feel closer to lives other than human lives”. In this performance this fascinating pianist was sitsfor extended periods in silence. Margaret was playing in her own time, as the dancers perform in their own way. The music accents didn't correspond with the visual scenes, unlike in traditional Japanese dance, where the unity of the two forms is key. Margaret made music accents according to her performing plan. It is a reason why one could say that one appreciates the music play than the „dance” play of this performance.

Music and dance play separate roles in „Mouring”. “It is a performance about hope,” said Margaret, “It is about universal vision of death, the story about passing the time, mourning world, but with hope to resurrection of this world”. The performance is a deconstruction of time, deconstruction of the traditional structures of Japanese dance and it is not dancing at all.

It was two dramas in one piece about mourning and fascinating to observe how these two separate forms influenced each other.

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Wed Jul 09, 2008 9:37 am ]
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by Joanna Zielińska

The title, “Mourning”, is like the groan of an instrument tortured by a musician; the cry of a man shot by an arrow; or the soundless cry of a critic trapped in the auditorium, who cannot believe what it is happening on stage. The performance is so different from what we are used to.

The stage design of “Mourning” introduces the scenery of a dreamy and melancholy fall. In front of an enormous tree trunk lays a bed of withered leaves. Against this background, the painted white bodies of Japanese dancers Eiko and Koma stand out sharply. Two people dressed in furs and holding arrows bring to mind the first human beings, the first man and woman, the first father and mother; Adam and Eve surrounded and cared for by Nature.

At the moment when, in a complete silence, they begin to move, the central question of dance research appears: What is dance? What is essential for the movement to call it dance? In fact the aim of Butoh, which the dancers make reference to, is to provoke the audience to think about the existence, the nature and the essence of movement. However, what we have seen on stage reminds us more of a pantomime or a happening, than of a typical dance performance.

During the one-hour choreography, Koma tries by all possible means to return to the womb of pre-woman Eiko. He bites her, wallows with her in the heap of leaves, tries to fathom her body and finally copulates with her under the fresh greenery. It is the fruit of their feeling but also the perverse reason of their death. Indeed Mother Nature is fertile, but at the same time ruthless – it allows one being to exist only at the cost of another's pain and death. The extremely prolonged dancers’ movements results in the pianist, Margaret Leng Tan, becoming the most expressive person on stage. She plays the grand piano in an almost “acrobatic” way. She makes discordant sounds using not only her fingers but also fists and forearms on the keyboard and plucks and tugs the strings inside the piano.

To sum up, the performance is one of those that may dismay us and pose the question - “Why?” - to all its elements: to the dance itself, but also to the music, and the formulation of content. One should take into consideration the critic's position: the lack of theoretical tools to describe such dance and the different aesthetic and sensitivity of a European audience. The feeling of relief for many when leaving the auditorium speaks for itself. But maybe that was the aim of performance – not pleasure and relaxation, but a weary glimpse into another world. This negative emotion was so intense that it will doubtless leave a permanent impression on many spectators.

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Wed Jul 09, 2008 9:39 am ]
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Vox pop on "Mourning" by Eiko and Koma:

Compiled by Magda Mikrut

- An intriguing proposal; interesting way of taking hold of the topic. The dancers, if that is the best way to describe them by virtue of their crawling movements, resembled graveyard pietas and the monuments put on graves.

- the show was hopeless - after 5 minutes I started thinking how it is possible for it to last one hour.

- I wonder whether crawling around the stage is really dance

- I am fascinated with the movement. People who aren’t interested in Japanese culture perhaps can’t understand this performance, because it is Butoh- Japanese contemporary theatre. I could hear many negative opinions, however I disagree with them. Examining this performance we must think with different categories. We should use cultural relativism. The Japanese technique is emphasizing disability, brittleness and is expressing all human shortcomings. In this dance it is about a sensitivity and a humility. These are completely different aesthetics.

-Terribly boring

-It is hard to call it the dance, in fact I am unsure how to categorize this show.

-Unfortunately I didn't understand what any of it meant

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Wed Jul 09, 2008 12:15 pm ]
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This was a performance that divided people to an extraordinary degree - it was 0 out of 10 or full marks, with no in-betweens from either the students or the faculty. I suspect that we English are missing the butoh gene, so I have to be included in the "null points" group. However, the pianist, Margaret Leng Tan, was always fascinating, striking the notes with a forearm, reaching in to pluck the strings directly andsometimes playing beautiful, slow melodies reminiscent of Arvo Part.

Eiko & Koma seem to have a huge reputation in the US - has anyone here seen them?

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