A World of Beauty, Stillness, and Passion
By Nicholas Orvis
When stepping into the main hall of the Zilkha Gallery, the most striking feeling was one of utter stillness and silence. I was, perhaps, there at a lucky time—no one else was in the gallery, no one was disrupting the solemn, mysterious air with conversation. It felt as though I had stepped into an different world, one devoid of any human touch. Gradually I realized that the gallery was in fact filled with the soft sounds of nature: the chirrup of the occasional frog, the tweet of a bird, the running of a stream, the purr of the fans somewhere in the background. The alien feeling, and the utter peace that accompanied it, were I suspect precisely the intended mood. The artists say on their website that “Through dance, we present archaic landscapes, eons older than the world we occupy, in which we (humans) can rediscover our essential selves.”
The artists, in this case, are Eiko and Koma, a Japanese couple who are dancer/choreographers, and permanently paired. They are referred to—repeatedly—as Eiko & Koma, without last name or division. Now 57 and 60, respectively, the couple has embarked on a three-year Retrospective Project, of which the current piece, Time is Not Even, Space is Not Empty is merely the first installment.
Sam Miller, the producer, explained why this retrospective project was currently happening.
“One of my…projects was to produce a series about movement artists who have a body of work,” Miller said. “And since I’ve worked with Eiko and Koma for so long, and I’ve worked with Pam [Tatge, Director of the Center for the Arts] and had such a good experience here…I asked her if she’d be interested in letting us incubate the project here.”
Eiko and Koma’s body of work is certainly vast—over the past 38 years the couple has danced their way throughout the United States and Eastern Europe, experimenting with form, movement, and emotion. Most of the dances in their repertoire can be seen in photographic displays that wrap around the edges of the room, as well as on large projection screens and more than one television. There is often a theatrical feeling to the dance, capturing heightened emotional states and expressing tension, even violence. The couple’s physical energy alone is staggering: every motion is intentional, developed, and directed. And although they often present unreal events and alien, primordial landscapes, the movement of their bodies is somehow recognizably and serenely human, presenting a more fundamental and emotional state of being.
Some of their work is less abstract. A notable exception is the critically acclaimed “Cambodian Stories: An Offering of Painting and Dance” from 2006. Working with the Reyum Art School in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Eiko and Koma taught a group of young painters, mostly in their teens, to “dance with their paintings,” as a video on the project said. More than just an exploration of Eiko and Koma’s style in younger bodies, “Cambodian Stories” is a testament to the hopes and dreams of young artists in a war-torn country, with each performer being given a chance to state their name and their dreams before the performance begins. Some of those dreams are now coming true, despite the odds.
Koma saw me watching a video of the performance and pointed out two of the lead dancers to me.
“She was 16,” he said, reminiscing. “She was 16, and he was 17. Both of them came from poor families, very poor families.”
Both of their fathers had died. But, he went on, after the performance they were both given full scholarships to the University of Cambodia where they are studying today.
This retrospective, though, is about more than dance, and it’s about more than Eiko and Koma’s message and ideals. To the performers, of course, it is a look back over their work, but to an outsider a much more profound story emerges: that of Eiko and Koma themselves. This is an exhibition of a lifetime of performance and artistic endeavor by two people who trust each other implicitly and without a second thought. The exhibition is the story—one of commitment, dedication, passion, and love. And that, I think, is something we can all appreciate.
Eiko and Koma’s Time is Not Even, Space is Not Empty runs through December 20 in the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery. Eiko and Koma can frequently be found in the space, and are available to talk with viewers.