Making a Splash:  Married collaborators Eiko & Koma premiere a new work at Lincoln Center
photo by Anna Lee Campbell

Making a Splash: Married collaborators Eiko & Koma premiere a new work at Lincoln Center

  • New York Press, July 20, 2011
  • Susan Reiter

The haunting, riveting performance works of Eiko & Koma have been among the New York dance scene’s most fascinating and unique events for 35 years. With their extreme slowness, these married dance collaborators distill movement to its essence and invite attentive focus on detail and nuance. Evoking a deep connection to elements of nature and the earth’s primordial forces, their dance works challenge audiences to let go of preconceived expectations about movement, and alter their approach to watching.

The couple met in 1971 at a Tokyo dance studio, and very quickly began living and working together. Forty years later, their three-year Retrospective Project is examining and celebrating this seminal collaboration with events in museums, theaters and outdoors locations. It has included several New York events—most recently in March, when Eiko & Koma performed their stunning Naked: A Living Installation at Baryshnikov Arts Center.

The Retrospective comes to Lincoln Center this month, in a big way. In addition to an innovative installation opening this week at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Eiko & Koma will perform Water, a world premiere set to original commissioned score performed live by flutist-composer Robert Mirabal, in the well-known reflecting pool on the northern portion of the campus. They have often performed in outdoor settings—as well as museum galleries—and Water is inspired by River, an hour-long work they have performed in rivers and ponds since 1995. Earlier this month, they performed it for the third time at the American Dance Festival.

Last week, as the late-afternoon sun cast animated patterns on the pool, curious but respectful passersby were surprised to see a fine-boned woman in a flowing white robe moving with graceful intensity in the pool’s shallow water—a fragile figure alongside the massive Henry Moore sculpture that is usually its sole resident. Eiko was testing out the spacing for Water, she explained after she concluded her delicate explorations but remained standing at the pool’s perimeter. Koma, in a black T-shirt and jeans, sat on the eastern edge of the pool to observe and make suggestions.

When performing River, the couple enter from upstream and the action progresses downstream; the audience watches from one side of the river bank. As striking as the pool and its surrounding area—including the nearby sloping lawn—may be, the atmosphere is notably different. “It’s very urban. There is no upstream or downstream, and the water is shallower than when we perform in a river,” Eiko said. “This new piece is not the same, but we bring certain elements.” The free performances, which launch this year’s Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors Festival, begin at 9:30 p.m., and people can watch from three sides of the vast rectangular pool.

A short stroll away from where Water will be performed, final preparations were taking place at the Library for the July 19 opening of Residue: An Installation by Eiko & Koma. They are transforming the gallery into a unique environment that summons up and juxtaposes much of the work they have created over four decades. Many videos of their works—filmed live performances as well as specially designed media dances—can be viewed. Some are projected onto walls, but many are projected in video boxes over which the viewer stands, looking down at the screen, making it an intensely private experience. The earliest video, from 1980, shows them performing Event Fission, their earliest site-specific outdoor work, on the Hudson River landfill in front of the then-new Twin Towers.

In the center of the space is an intimate teahouse whose walls consist of the same magnificent canvas dappled with small dark feathers and other natural elements, which formed the entryway for Naked. Inside, a 47-minute video of Naked, created specially for this installation, will be projected onto a circular pool of water.

Hung side by side along one expanse of wall are sets and materials representing more than 25 years of Eiko & Koma’s work, including one created specifically for this installation that we might see in a future performance that we can only imagine now. There are backdrops, floor coverings, a driftwood sculpture from River and the stunning hand-sewn silkworm cottontree trunk that anchored their 1998 Tree. A similarly extensive and varied group of costumes hangs along another wall—striking and surprising garments, each with its own story to tell.

Through their intensely honest, often exposed bodies and such basic, functional and insightful design elements, Eiko & Koma have captivated, and illuminated through works that defy categorization and reward deep contemplation. New York is fortunate to be their home base and the site of so many memorable performances, and this month at Lincoln Center they offer both recollection as well as their newest exploration.

Water

July 27–31, Paul Milstein Pool, Herst Plaza, Lincoln Center, www.lincolncenter.org; 9:30, Free.

Residue: An Installation by Eiko & Koma

July 19–Oct. 30, Vincent Astor Gallery, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, 111 Amsterdam Ave. (at 65th St.), 212-870-1630; Free.