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Dance review: Eiko and Koma's 'Water' at Skirball Cultural Center

September 10, 2011 |  4:26 pm

Eiko and Koma
In “Water,” the avant-garde performance duo Eiko and Koma returned to the wet medium in which they have created some of their most celebrated dances, evoking an intense hour-long journey of life, death, peace, and sadness. For this viewer, humanity prevailed.

The piece had its West Coast premiere Friday night, the performers floating, crawling and walking in the outdoor reflecting pool at the Skirball Cultural Center. Inspired in part by universal mourning rituals, “Water” was a commemoration of the 10th anniversary if 9/11 and was co-commissioned with Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. It repeats Sunday.

But “Water” was not limited to, or by, that association. Its hypnotic, slowly changing tableaux inspired as many sensations and ideas as viewers’ imaginations allowed. In the 40 years that the Japanese-born couple have collaborated, they have distilled a distinctive style that is stark, but powerful. On Friday night, the audience’s distracting chatter as the piece got underway (“…like watching grass grow,” one man was overhead to remark) soon hushed to silence and expectation. 

Water “Water’s” literal trip took the performers from prone positions against the high wall of the Mark Taper Foundation Courtyard, into and across the 16-inch deep pool, and then back again. That was it. The work’s stillness heightened every sensation. Shadows and the pool’s rippling reflections danced on the courtyard walls. The flowers on the floating lily pads (Star of Siam and Innocence) were closed, the buds pointed skyward.

The scene was drained of color, painted in sepia. Branches tied together suggested a floating funeral pyre, as did a small raft of candles that was introduced at the work’s end. Native American musician Robert Mirabal’s recorded, percussion score, blended with the sounds of night insects and the nearby 405 freeway.

But it was, as always, the concentration and desolate passion of Eiko and Koma, their faces painted white, that transported. Eiko, with her long hair and twig-like arms held aloft, became a Shakespearean spirit bearing witness. Koma floated with remarkable smoothness, only the top of his mask-like face visible. Their roles shifted as subtly as their gestures.

Koma, his mouth slightly and unsettlingly ajar, seemed first a victim and then a savior. Eiko supported him in their first duet, as his body collapsed into hers. Before their final parting, he raised Eiko’s body high out of the water, presenting her to the heavens.

This primal, elemental dance-theater surprised us, yet again. One left feeling cleansed, a spirit of hope restored.

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--Laura Bleiberg

Eiko & Koma “Water,” Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. 8:30 p.m. Sunday. Free; limited seating and standing room available. (877) 722-4849 or skirball.org. Running time: 50 minutes.

Photos: Eiko & Koma's "Water" at the Skirball Cultural Center. Credit: Christina House / For The Times

 

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