Eiko & Koma

May 27, 2010

Eiko & Koma
Danspace Project

St. Mark’s Church, NYC

May 27–30, 2010

Reviewed by Wendy Perron


Eiko and Koma in
White Dance. Photo by Anna Lee Campbell, courtesy Danspace.


They merge with nature, whether they go to it (as in River) or it comes to them (as in most other pieces during the last 35 years). This segment of Eiko & Koma’s multiyear Retrospective Project, produced by Sam Miller, included Raven, a project premiere; an excerpt from White Dance, the first work they did in the U.S.; and a documentary film called Dancing in Water: the Making of River (1995).

In the beginning of the film, which captures the two dancers rehearsing in the water and performing River, they float as though part of the driftwood. Koma nuzzles into Eiko’s neck; her curled hand moves infinitely slowly toward his face and lands on his eye. During a break, their two young sons dog-paddle out to the driftwood, eager to be part of the action. This film prompted a craving in me to see (to have seen?) River at one of its 13 locations.

Eiko begins Raven alone, lying on the floor, which is covered with canvas, black feathers, some straw or reeds, and salt. As she arches then curves over, one leg gets stuck in the air, the toes fanning out like fingers. She covers herself with some kind of animal skin, scrapes some reeds close to her. Is she planting them in the ground or protecting herself? At other times, she seems to be on the bottom of the ocean. Koma enters, less controlled and more erratic. As he reaches up jarringly, he slams down onto his knees. Behind him, Eiko opens her arms to the sky as if to ask that Koma be spared. When moving close together, they seem to struggle to stay alive or to kill each other. Robert Mirabal plays on a Native American drum with even beats, from very soft to very loud. His chanting is heart-catching. He never watches the dancers, but when Eiko and Koma dig into each other, he scratches the drum skin.

Nothing in White Dance (1976) is white except their faces. Koma wears a bright red toga, Eiko a long kimono of muted colors. When she descends to the floor, that last half-inch of letting her head drop to the ground can take an eon—but a fascinating eon. She limps around the room like a wounded heron, making prehistoric hiccup noises. Later that bird drags itself on its belly, lifeless legs folded back as though damaged by an oil spill. A moth is projected on the scorched sheets that serve as a backdrop, and at one point Eiko seems to blend in with that tapestry. Koma rushes in with a sack of potatoes, which spill and bump and scatter.

Often in the past, Eiko and Koma have been indistinguishable from each other. But on this night, in the intimate setting of Danspace, they were very different individuals: She was as strong as a stalk and luminous as the moon; he was a joker, a trickster who didn’t mind being reckless.