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Eiko and Koma's Cambodian adventure

February 26, 2011 | 12:15 pm

EikoWhile over the course of the Regeneration program tour, Eiko and Koma will present many of their 40 works, there are two that they cannot perform by themselves. Usually independent of everything but sets, costumes and musical scores, they began a collaboration with Cambodian art students in 2004 that led to two uncharacteristic pieces, not only including others but words and painting as well.

It all began when the Cambodian artist Daravuth Ly, director of Reyum Art School in Phnom Penh, invited them to work with the children at his academy. Over the course of a month, Eiko and Koma showed the students their work and also taught them what they call their “Delicious Movement,” a discipline meant to foster kinetic sensitivity. The kids took to it with a passion. Reminded of their youth in post-war Japan, they developed a deep affection for the group, and decided to choreograph for them – something they rarely do. “We didn’t share a language,” says Eiko, “but we could sing, dance and cook together.”

Returning in 2005, they began training the students, and a year later, they performed “Cambodian Stories: An Offering of Painting and Dance” with them. At first, the audience only included family and friends but word spread of its beauty and power and traditional court dancers, teachers and cultural ministers came to see their show. Set to Cambodian popular songs and instrumental music, it is about love and painting and survival after the Pol Pot genocidal regime. Eventually, a performance was broadcast on national television.

The following year, they brought the work to the United States, with 11 students, from age 16 to 22, who created paintings during the 80-minute production.  In 2007, Eiko and Koma created the sequel, the haunting “Cambodian Stories Revisited,” performing with two Cambodian students, in the graveyard of St. Mark’s Church in New York. Their Cambodian adventure will continue. “We can’t imagine a life without the kids and the school,” says Koma.

To read my story on the duo, who appear this week at REDCAT, click here.

--Valerie Gladstone

Photo: The pair dancing "Raven." Credit: Anna Lee Campbell