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Monday, June 25, 2007
Presented by The American Dance Festival
Durham, North Carolina

Two naked bodies float facedown in a red river and nobody pays attention. I cannot take my eyes off the smooth skin and elegant curves of the shoulders, hips, and buttocks yet mundane conversations and idle chatter fill the theater and deny this image. Perhaps I’m the only one who sees it.

“Excuse me, I think you’re in our seat,” says an irritated woman to the students on my left.

As I rise to let people shuffle past, my eyes are still locked on the mounds of pale skin that are beginning to look less like human flesh and more like marble chess pieces in check-mate.

Dimming lights finally give the audience permission to acknowledge the scene. My eyes think they detect small movements, but I’m not ready to trust them. Eventually I am convinced, but by this time the figures have lost all suggestions of human form and all I can see are two shifting masses that breathe into mountains before settling back into fetal shapes as darkness swallows the stage.

***

The floating red river is illuminated once again and we are transported to the world of “Grain” where a whisper becomes a roar. In this world, there is violence in an abruptly bent knee, power in an icy stare, danger in the flexed claw of a hand.

Two seraphic creatures unleash particles of grain with reverence. It trickles from her hands, cascades over his body, is thrown into the air, and produces a pillow for her buried head, providing sustenance for survival.

Candles illuminate the silhouette of the young man, casting ancient shadows. The two sample cooked grains, savoring the nourishment. The young man forces his companion to consume more, feeding her as she first resists then participates in her own taxidermic stuffing. She is lifted away and brought swiftly to the ground as he extinguishes the flames. Suddenly, the symbol of life has become a tool of death.

***

I can’t help but feeling that I’ve arrived too late. Not to the theater, of course. But to Eiko & Koma. Having never seen them perform live, what am I to make of the fact that “Grain,” my first Eiko & Koma performance wasn’t actually performed by Eiko & Koma but instead by Cambodian art students Charian and Peace, the first ever to perform the renowned duo’s work? What to think of this hand-me-down experience?

As if in answer, “Quartet” begins.

***

Charian and Peace sleep soundly. As if not quite ready to put them forth into the world, not quite ready to continue the lineage, Eiko and Koma pull the two youths to the back of the stage, away from the audience, away from the light. With great tenderness and no small amount of pain, Eiko and Koma contemplate this transition, this new phase where their art becomes a communal experience. Never before has their work been shared and they seem to hesitate at the prospect.

The two elders face their inheritors, creating a shield to the audience, leaning against each other for support and guidance. After a few moments, they give their blessing and turn away. Koma stumbles and drops to the ground with a shattering thud. Eiko crawls arduously, arm outstretched as if begging for compassion.

Receiving the consent of their mentors, Charian and Peace arise. With elegantly wilted hands and carefully shaped arms, the two pay homage to their Cambodian culture, acknowledging the national heritage that separates them from Eiko and Koma, their Japanese teachers.

Eiko fights to leave the stage but Peace gently ushers her back. Koma bends low to offer solid support to a melting Charian. Peace and Koma struggle for coexistence while Charian and Eiko silently honor each other. Eventually, the four recognize the inevitability and indeed the necessity of change for the sake of continuity and preservation. The passing of the torch is complete and the new family sleeps.

***

With “Quartet”, we have been asked by Eiko and Koma to accept their work in new form. This evening, “Grain” has embodied that request and in the future there may be other such examples. What was utterly clear tonight is that there is beauty and power in the work itself, even removed from the bodies of its creators.

In that sense, maybe there is no such thing as arriving too late to Eiko & Koma. Maybe the important thing is that one gets there at all. Maybe I’ve arrived just in time.

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