Movement, Orientation, and the Brain

Eiko and Koma: The Revolutionary Dancing Duo

Eiko performing Raven photograph by Fett

by Myya McGregory

Eiko and Koma are dance veterans. The duo, now both over 60, are in fact rather lighthearted in their interviews despite putting on vulnerable and occasionally morbid performances. Now working on an exhibition titled Residue for the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, they continue to explore the intersection of performance art and their signature style,”delicious movement.”

Having  trained with pinoeers Kazuo Ohno and Tatsumi Hijikata, their movement style is heavily rooted in Japanese butoh.

Butoh or “Dance of Utter Darkness” drummed up a considerable amount of controversy in Japan as it emerged after World War II. Drawing its influence from the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, butoh showcased movements that originated from a very dark place in Japan’s history. Dancers would powder themselves white, exposing their ghostly, naked bodies on stage, make faces, and move their bodies in extremely vulnerable and contorted ways almost always using small isolated motions. Performances may be haunting or comical, but it is not uncommon for audience members to be moved to tears or outrage.

Performance art takes art to the next level — it’s live art that you can watch and sometimes even participate in.

Eiko and Koma in Raven photograph by Fett

As you will find out in the upcoming Cinema Issue, watching (whether it’s a movie, a theatre performance, or a dance) is akin to experiencing. When you watch you are transported. You are there.

Though the New York Times has called Eiko and Koma’s Hunger “glacial,” their incremental movements have direction, and in slowing themselves down they help the viewer get lost in the details of their movements. Their performances are long, and the average adult attention span (when the mind is not being actively applied) is less than 20 minutes. Naked, for example, was performed at the Walker Art Centre for four weeks during all museum hours. During that time an audience of over 40,000 members came and went. Friends of GLIMPSE who saw the performance said they somehow ended up staying longer than intended. As Eiko and Koma are masters of setting engrossing scenes and telling stories, it is no wonder the audience gets glued to their performances. Eiko and Koma transcend the attention span. Once you engage your prefrontal cortex, you don’t have to concentrate to focus on the scene unfolding before you. You are already sucked in.