Slow Dancing…With Spuds

By Victoria Looseleaf

Buttocks. Beauty. Bach. Welcome to butoh, Eiko and Koma-style. The married couple, who met in 1971 in Tatsumi Hijikata’s Tokyo studio and are two of the most revered artists in the dance world, imbue butoh – a form created in postwar Japan as a response to Hiroshima – with powerful imagery, haunting truths and never-ending revelations. Currently on a multi-city retrospective tour, Regeneration, the duo graced Los Angeles’ black box theater, REDCAT, in a performance of such staggering depth that The Leaf, suffering from one of her massive cluster headaches, was transported to a realm far beyond the physical.

The body as landscape (shades of Andrew Wyeth’s Helga, perhaps?)

The glacial pace that defines butoh does, in fact, seem to not only slow down time, but to halt it. With Eiko (58) and Koma (61), who are now dealing with the aging body, their movement vocabulary offers startling insights into what it means to be human. Beginning with last year’s Raven, set to a bird-cawing, tom-tom accentuated score by Robert Mirabal, the duo cannily moves backward in time during the three-part program. But first it is Eiko, who, topless and chalky white, lies prone amid a stage strewn with straw and black feathers (no Black Swan hysteria here). Arching her back and splaying her toes, Eiko eventually rises to adorn herself with a kind of animal skin before Koma enters in a decidedly more bouncy mode. An incessant urgency prevails, with backwards walks, crouching and an agony bordering on ecstasy all thrown in for purposeful measure.

The shorter Night Tide (1984), a study of the body as landscape, began with a gander at Eiko’s inverted buttocks. Reminiscent of Cecilia Bengolea’s work in Paquerette (seen last summer at the Montpellier Dance Festival – click here to read – wherein Bengolea’s legs were perpendicular to the floor, her derriere upside-down and sporting an elongated Lucite dildo pointing north in mini-Eiffel Tower mode), any further resemblance between these artists soon ceased. What we had in its stead, though, was Koma in reverse gender fashion as a Pieta figure, cradling Eiko like the precious cargo she is, both bodies smooth as polished, albeit veined, marble statuary.

Finally, in an excerpt from 1976’s White Dance, in this case a form of meta-theater, the delicious English folk song, Agincourt Carol, was first heard, with Koma in red kimono and Eiko in flowing earth-toned silk. Much skittering took place against a sumptuous piece of fabric as backdrop, the projected images ranging from a moth and wings to a golden-hued watery environment. Koma majestically moved pavane-like before strains of a Bach harpsichord concerto began. Then, in a moment of exquisite folly, Koma began strewing potatoes around the stage. Potatoes! Seriously, what could be better than this?

Butoh: The Dance of Depth (Photos by Steven Gunter)

As the couple inched slowly towards the audience, the sounds of this hearty tuber – yes, those rough and tumble studs were occasionally underfoot – the work drew to a fantastic close: Sustenance, power and love were all in the building.

Ain’t life grand! And good news: Eiko and Koma will be returning to Los Angeles in September, to the Skirball Cultural Center, reprising Offering, their mesmerizing site specific work performed in the water. Yes!