Eiko and Koma Dance Their Retrospective in Abq.
Collaborators Eiko and Koma performed three dances from their Retrospective Project Saturday night at the North Fourth Arts Center in Albuquerque. This brave little venue has brought unparalleled national and international avant-garde dance to our state through its Global DanceFest, Out of the Ordinary, Wild Dancing West and other events. Taos Pueblo musician Robert Mirabal accompanied the first two pieces on percussion and flute.
Raven (2010) opens the evening. A charred swath of canvas runs upstage to a matching backdrop. It’s a beach littered with black feathers concentrated in a pile of sand. Stalks of reeds fringing each side impart a flayed deconstruction to the blasted landscape. The female dancer sprawls on her back, head to the audience beyond the detritus of feathers and sand; powdered white, arms akimbo, torso stripped, ragged leather skirt. Ever seen a weathered bird carcass on the beach? She works into a slow writhe clutching feathers, then bunches of reed, developing into a stagger as she pulls herself to her feet. Mirabal, stage right, begins drumming a large cottonwood bass. His steady crescendo drives the performance into the deep time allusion of Native ritual. The male dancer, costume matching the female, enters and tries to repair the raven, plastering her with handfuls of feathers which don’t stick. Mirabal interjects the primal tones of Indian song into his drumming. The pair make their way downstage where they embrace into a brief contortion, sticking their heads under each others’ skirt to suggest a glimmer of sexuality in the midst of desolation. Reaching an energetic peak, Mirabal goes silent, sits motionless at his drum. The dancers collapse among the sand and feathers, reconstituting the defunct pile of bones.
The second dance, Night Tide (1984), begins in a dusk of blue overhead light. Some optical effect of the gels made the theater cans appear as hovering indigo globes. The stage crew has furled coverings to reveal the whole floor and back in charred fabrics. The performers, nude bodies dusted white start ramped in the upstage corners, head to the audience, buttocks in the air, sculptural as Edward Weston nudes or rocks and slightly obscene. Mirabal offstage blows an eery water music shakuhachi-like on his flute. As the duet of night thoughts inches downstage its play of exposure and concealment releases every kind of association across the public/private membrane of audience attention. The taut adagio of two nude bodies and their potential intimacy amplifies exponentially in the imaginations of the viewers. Of course the tide evokes the ebb and flow of sexuality; the moon’s pull on the estrous cycle, the salt of the blood. When the two finally meet, the collision of an architectural embrace falling away at the moment of its consummation is almost a relief as the couple separates and the lights dim down. These guys are the pros. The audience is accidental voyeurs.
Eiko and Koma left college in 1971 to join the company of one Butoh founder, Tatsumi Hijikata, going on to study with the other, Kazuo Ohno. Butoh or “Ankoku Butoh” – dance of darkness evolved in Japan during the late early sixties. Consciously or unconsciously, performances often carry themes of transformation or resurrection following the atom bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima and the fragmentation of traditional Japanese culture after the war. In Europe Eiko and Koma studied with Manja Chmiel, a student of Mary Wigman who herself served as inspiration for Ohno. Their dance training ran the canon of the Butoh movement however, rarely is their work categorized as Butoh. In 1976 they moved to New York.
White Dance (1976), the artists’ breakthrough American work, completed the night’s trio as a confluence of inspirations. Accompanied by recordings of the Agincourt Carol – still a war reference as it celebrates Henry V’s victory over the French – and Bach’s Concerto for Harpsichord in F minor – an epitome of post-baroque musical structure, it reflects both their Japanese roots and European residence. Through the wanderings onstage of a female and male, each in their own world but mutually attracted, the dance conveys a search for romantic courtship. Eiko croaks “ai, ai, ai” (“love in Japanese?), arms open and reaching. Koma, in a bright red tunic, open behind like a hospital gown, totters on his feet, befuddled and clownlike, making quasi port-de-bras gestures each truncated or unfinished. In one assertive act he rips the backdrop defying the scenario of artistic illusion. Against a projection of an enormous moth, the female seems to find meaning as she undergoes transformation into a kind of Kannon – Buddhist goddess of mercy – figure. The male, clad in the hue of the Passion and solar disc of the Japanese flag – finally and buffoonnishly proffers himself as a bumbling provider, dumping potatoes from burlap sacks heedlessly over his back as he circles the female – like a moth. “Imo” – potato – means “hick” in colloquial Japanese.
Before Saturday’s Albuquerque show, the two had visited the Trinity Site the same day. Eiko termed the trip “intense”.
Below: Eiko and Koma performing “Water,” at Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival this summer.