On Thursday, October 28, curator Philip Bither will sit down with legendary Japanese-born choreographers/dancers Eiko and Koma to talk about the whole span of their career, including their long-standing relationship with the Walker. The conversation will be the only interview of its kind presented at the museum during the artists' two-month residency, in part because from November 2 through 30, the artists will be performing six hours a day, six days a week as part of a new "living installation," called Naked. Bither says that the talk will be free flowing, but will probably touch on Eiko and Koma's philosophy around artistic practice, their inspirations, the development of their site-specific work, and their relationship to Butoh dance, among other topics.
The two artists met in 1971 while they were studying law and political science in Japan. They each joined the company of Tatsumi Hijikata, one of the founders of Butoh, a genre that emerged in post-atomic nuclear war Japan. Butoh has no set style, but it is known for its intensely controlled body movements, grotesque imagery, and white body makeup. Eiko and Koma also studied with another Butoh founder, Kazuo Ohno, but eventually ended up leaving Japan for other educational opportunities in Europe.
They eventually went to Hanover, Germany to study with Neue Tanz (a kind of physical theater) with Manja Chmiel, and continued their studies in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Tunisia. Eventually they were encouraged by Lucas Hoving, from José Limón Dance Company to move to the United States.
Bither said he first saw the pair perform 25 years ago when he was a fairly new employee at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). There they presented New Moon Stories as part of BAM's Next Wave Festival, which marked their 10th anniversary in the United States and the first of five commissions from BAM. Bither remembers distinctly how overwhelmed he was by the monumental intensity of their performance: "I had never seen anything quite like it."
Later, he invited Eiko and Koma to perform at Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, Vermont where he was the Artistic Director. When he came to the Walker in the late 1990s, he was pleased to realize that the artists already had a relationship with the institution.
Naked, which the Walker commissioned, is a movement/visual art installation featuring Eiko and Koma's live bodies as they move in an environment made of organic materials. Bither said the installation, though different from their more theatrical pieces, follows their tradition of bodily-inhabited art. "It's a much more nuanced and quieter experience," he states, "but it's still as powerful." The performers aren't so much dancing as living and existing in the gallery.
The last time the couple performed a similar month-long living installation was in 1998 at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Bither said that the museum is taking every precaution to ensure that Eiko, who is 58, and Koma, who is 61, have their basic human needs met. "There is a great vulnerability in having one's body exposed," he believes, so the Walker will have a gallery guard just in case anything is needed. They will also keep the temperature higher in addition to having heating pads underneath the two tons of earth where the artists will be nesting. They will also have access to massage and physical therapists, but Bither said that the artists are highly trained and have been preparing for the exhibition for months. "Really, its more about mental concentration and exhaustion than physical exertion," he said.
'Talking Dance with Eiko and Koma' will take place on Thursday, October 28 at 7 p.m. at the McGuire Theater at the Walker. Admission is free. Naked will be performed six hours a day, six days a week, Tuesday through Sunday, November 2 through 30 in Gallery 2 at the Walker Art Center (1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; 612.375.7600). For details about the residency and their retrospective project, visit walkerart.org.