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Eiko and Komo at 2010 ADF
Development and Decay: Eiko and Koma revisit, recycle, and remember in Retrospective Project I: Regeneration
"To live is to be fragile," reads the poem, "A Moth," adapted from Mitsuharu Kaneko, which is printed in the program for Eiko and Koma's Retrospective Project. Certainly, Eiko and Koma's work reveals the fragility and desperation of human life, but also the fierceness and determination. The duo presented three works this week (June 28-30) at the Reynolds Industries Theater: "Raven," a new work, "Night Tide" (1984), and an excerpt from "White Dance" (1976), their first choreographed piece.
It is impossible not to think about the passage of time with respect to Eiko and Koma's work. Their Retrospective Project intentionally emphasizes this; displayed in the lobby of the theater are set pieces, props, and videos from their work together over the past 40 years. Detailed program notes about their habits of recycling performance ideas, props, costumes, and music, and the literal regeneration of past work on the program reinforces the awareness of evolution through time.
But this awareness is also embedded in the performance work itself. The notoriously slow pace of the pair's movement allows the passage of time to be felt and consciously seen as we notice how their bodies move, work, and balance, creating striking movement images; we watch the evolution - development and decay - of each gesture, each step. We have time to take in how their bodies relate to the performing environment, to consider the way time works on the environment, and by extension, the human body.
"Raven" is a stark dance, preceded by the cawing of birds and accompanied by Native American drumming composed by Robert Mirabal. A wide, rectangular canvas hangs at the back of the stage, scorched black holes mirroring the black feathers strewn across the ground. Straw lines the dusty canvas on the floor, where Eiko lies facedown. Faces drawn, Eiko and Koma stumble, stagger, scratch at the parched earth. Clutching at dry grasses, scrounging and scooting through this landscape of death, the image is one of extremity, of desperation. And yet, there is perseverance; even though they collapse, muscles contracting with the effort of living, Eiko continues moving, stretching her splayed and clawing fingers as the lights fade.
In "Night Tide," the focus seems to be less on the external environment than on a strange, somehow foreign internal one made visible. The lights fade up so slowly and subtly it seems at first that my eyes are merely adjusting to the darkness. But then, two bodies float in separate pools of light. Slowly, very slowly, the naked bodies - smooth and knobby landforms - shift and lean, as if swayed by the atmospheric music: part ocean, part heartbeat. In time, the two forms, all curves and shadows, inch and roll their way towards each other, a slow travel through a dream. For one brief and tender moment, she holds onto his neck and he raises his torso so that both heads arc towards vertical - a slow motion crashing of two waves. The image dissolves, and they ease back into their separate pools of light, leaving us with a lingering loneliness and longing.
"White Dance" did not have the same gripping emotional and physical energy of the first two, and appeared to be more a collection of scenes or images than a single, concentrated image-idea. Eiko balances on her tailbone, arms and legs reaching, as she gradually lowers herself to the floor; Koma skitters across the canvas-covered floor in a red kimono; Eiko stands against the backdrop, almost blending in to the image projected onto the fabric, one arm a wing, flying; Koma strews potatoes across the stage from a sack over his shoulder. The final image, however, brought the evening together for me, as both performers walked slowly towards the audience, bumping potatoes with their feet. What a different landscape from the barren land of "Raven"! Here is a bounty of food, enough to sustain, to regenerate life, just as Eiko and Koma have sustained and regenerated their creative life over the years - and will surely continue to do so.
This week, Pilobolus returns to the Durham Performing Arts Center (July1-3) with new and favorite works, including two ADF-commissioned World Premieres.
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