ONSTAGE : Primordial modern – Eiko & Koma brings mournful, earthy dance to UCSB

By Ted Mills, News-Press Correspondent
April 25, 2008 11:10 AM
“Sometimes I feel that part of ‘evolving’ is a liberty to de-evolve,” says Eiko of Eiko and Koma, the wife and husband dance duo. “We do a lot of animalistic movement, but that is not imitation. That is us remembering what it was like to be animals.” The provocative career of this couple, now in its third decade, has long explored those connections of man and the environment, as well as its disconnect. Eiko and Koma’s often-ghostly white pallor, the strange beauty of their movements, and their archaic stage environments will all be taken to the next level in their live collaboration with avant-garde pianist Margaret Leng Tan this Thursday night at UCSB’s Campbell Hall. The evening-length work is entitled “Mourning.”
Eiko underlines the idea of Tan as collaborator, not just accompanist, and that “Mourning” should be seen not as an evening of dance with music, but rather one of music with dance. “Tan is a fellow artist,” Eiko says. “She’s a strong performer and pianist. As such she is very much in her own world.”
But the same could be said about Eiko and Koma. Both developed their art while in college in Tokyo, during the turbulent years of the late ’60s and early ’70s. As in the West, the youth of Japan rebelled against their government, and by extension, all authority.
“We were both part of the anti-Vietnam, post-war questioning that was going on,” Eiko says. “Before we met each other we were both active. And we both dropped out. Even among the anti-war sects there was a lot of antagonism. So I went to talk to my dance teacher. I wanted something to grapple with. I wanted to find a way to communicate my ideas without arguing.”
Eiko’s teachers were Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno, both modern dance legends who are seen as the originators of Butoh dance. Though Eiko and Koma’s works share some qualities with Butoh, such as the unsettling imagery, white make-up, and grotesque movement, Eiko says they never properly studied the style.
“I don’t think of them as Butoh masters,” she says. “We have a spiritual tie with them, but ? we were bad students anyway.” Any teachers at that time, she says, were still authority figures.
Instead, once Eiko had met Koma, they developed their own style and moved away from Japan to Germany, then to New York.
“It was a way of trying out our relationship,” she says. “And along the way we realized what we could do. We realized we had become one.” That relationship has held strong over the years since their first performance in 1971. They have always performed as a duo, and Eiko says that through this time, certain themes have continued: “The relationship with nature, how things that are vulnerable change so rapidly; how technology has caused these things.”
Those themes continue in a way with the collaboration with Tan. The pianist, who is well-known for her recordings of John Cage works — she worked closely with the composer in the last decade of his life — brought hours worth of selections to the first (professional) meeting with Eiko and Koma two years ago.
“She played for hours from her repertory,” says Eiko. Some of the pieces that made their way into “Mourning” include Somei Satoh’s “Litania” and Cage’s “In the Name of the Holocaust.” The Cage piece caused some problems from the point of view of a dancer.
“The first time I heard it I immediately thought, this is not good,” says Eiko, “This is kind of impossible to dance to ? we knew it would be a very dangerous place that we were stepping into. The emotion that goes with it ? it’s a very strong wave of emotions. It’s almost unwelcome.”
But entering that uncomfortable space, being in it, and, as Eiko points out, highlighting the space as much as the dancer, is part of Eiko and Koma’s art. Even this far into their career, for Eiko and Koma to feel unsure and to push forward shows they haven’t lost their nerve.
“Margaret’s playing is so precise, so necessary, so urgent, and our dance is . . . arbitrary,” she says with half a laugh. “It’s suicidal for us to be working with her.”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: Campbell Hall, UCSB
Cost: $35 general, $19 students
Information: 893-3535, www.artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu
©2008 Santa Barbara News-Press

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