Monday, April 4, 2011

Day 4- Eiko and Koma

About 12 years ago I was introduced to the courageous and unique dancing artists Eiko and Koma. Fascinated, I followed their images on a 15" screen as they performed  "River," a performance piece set in a naturally occurring body of water. I recall being enamored by the connectivity between the performers themselves and the natural surroundings that were so integrally part of the work. It made an impression. I've thought about them quite a few times over the years but never had the opportunity to see them live until Saturday evening.

Stepping out of the elevator on the 6th floor of the Baryshnikov Arts Center (BAC) on Saturday was a bizarre experience. I had been here before for numerous rehearsals and was expecting to walk into the same lobby space…not so. The open, light, spastic energy that usually lived here had been replaced by a heavy, deeply calm atmosphere. Voices were hushed, visitors drifted doggedly in and out of the studio spaces and a pensive mask seemed to be the dress code. I had made the journey all the way to BAC on 37th and 10th to see “Naked: A Living Installation” by the living, butoh-esque legends, Eiko and Koma (though they do not refer to their work as Butoh out of respect to their teacher Kazuo Ohno).  

A soft-spoken woman dressed in all black invited visitors to move from the lobby into the main studio in small groups.  As she opened the door, warm air thick with humidity met my face and bare arms reminding me of a visit to an underground cavern. The room was divided by a neutral canvas curtain spotted with dark feathers and fist-sized burn holes. It fell from the ceiling to the floor and created a delicate barrier between the outside world and that of Eiko and Koma. Traveling this temporary corridor, I was aware of unevenness with my footfalls and heard crunching, I looked down to see salt crystals blanketing the floor. I turned the corner and entered the intimate performance space: one row of benches and a row of floor pillows which were just feet from the bodies of Eiko and Koma.
The scene was surreal: two seemingly ageless, sexless bodies, one lying supine the other on its side, in a nest of feathers, straw, soil and salt. The soil created the base, the first layer of the nest, and spilled out to touch the feet of those seated on pillows. The connection to the organic element of soil seemingly invited visitors in to become part of the fragile scene.  Straw was layered on the soil and a mess of feathers and salt gently covered the top. Tiny drops of water fell from the darkness of the studio ceiling making hollow thuds as they reached the ground. Small black sculptures made of paper (?) and resembling spiders perched about the overhead lights obscuring the soft glow of orange, blue and green and creating a mottled effect ominously shadowing the figures.
Initially, the bodies looked like statues. They were covered in powdery, white paint which gave the illusion of stone instead of skin. Both were extremely trim and, as the light fell on to protruding bones making shadow filled crevasses, they resembled piles of sticks strewn atop the nest. Slowly though, as I became aware of movement, the forms of Eiko and Koma, that at first appeared almost alien, began to morph. The stone transformed to flesh and I was entranced by the delayed movement- at times so slow that the rise and fall of the breath coming in and leaving their bodies seemed rapid.
Their bodies, while seemingly at rest, were constantly working, always engaged in some way. Each shift and breath was intentional and controlled, even the movement of the eyes. At one brilliant moment, Eiko opened her eyes, the lids lifting slowly to reveal deep, unblinking pools of black obsidian. They caught the light and reflected it back out as her weight shifted and her face rolled towards the ceiling. Her long black hair was now disentangled from the feathers that it has previously been indistinguishable from. Particles of black dirt stuck to the white painted flesh and the imprint of straw remained reminding us that under the paint existed living, human flesh.
As Eiko stretched her long delicate fingers across the nest and her hand came to rest in Koma’s hair I felt like a voyeur. I became aware of the new visitors peering through the holes in the canvas, their eyes falling on the intimate scene in the warm room. Her touch seemed to rouse him from the psychological distance and he responded by reaching a large, masculine hand with outstretched fingers in her direction and then letting it settle to the floor. The back of her knee reflected the greenish light and his foot noiselessly disappeared into the pile of feathers and soil. Eiko and Koma were physically touching but disconnected, it was touching and as a viewer I felt disconnected.
With “Naked: A Living Installation,” Eiko and Koma have made a hauntingly beautiful environment that left me feeling meditative. It is eerie, embryonic, sculptural, sensual and staggering.
Eiko and Koma will be performing “Naked: A Living Installation” at BAC through April 9th. It’s free and worth the westward walk. Check it out!
Love and light,

No comments:

Post a Comment