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Jack Anderson

Eiko and Koma: Cambodia Again


Eiko and Koma: "Cambodian Stories Revisited"
Danspace Project, St. Mark's Churchyard, St. Mark's Church, Second Avenue and Tenth Street, East Village
May 24-27, free
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, May 27, 2007

Photo by Rose Eichenbaum.

Eiko and Koma's "Cambodian Stories Revisited" was a tribute to life danced in a cemetery. St. Mark's churchyard served as the stage, with memorials scattered among the audience, the stone beneath my feet honoring a George Wotherspoon, who died in 1815.

This new work became a companion to "Cambodian Stories: An Offering of Painting and Peace," which the Japanese-born dancers and choreographers presented last year at the Asia Society along with young Cambodian students from the Reyum Institute of Arts and Culture in Phnom Penh. Combining dance movements with a demonstration of how pictures can be painted, that production commented with subtle eloquence on Cambodia's turbulent history and affirmed art as a way of remembering and healing.

Seven scroll-like paintings of women resembling goddesses that figured in the earlier work hung at the back of the churchyard and the lighting by Tim Cryan, in association with Eiko and Koma, made them glow like jewels against the darkness of the foliage and the evening sky. But whereas "Cambodian Stories" often emphasized healing the wounds of the past, "Cambodian Stories Revisited," though danced among gravestones, acknowledged the present and contemplated the future.

The present was inescapable. Although recorded Cambodian music played in the background, it was punctuated by sounds from around the church: traffic noises, pedestrians' conversations, and bits of broadcasts from passing cars.

"Cambodian Stories Revisited" also seemed concerned with the future, for in addition to Eiko and Koma, the cast of four included two talented young people from the earlier production: 17-year old Charian (Chakrya So) and 18-year old Peace (Setheap Sorn).

Photo by Takahiro Haneda.

The production began with Charian and Peace atop a wooden construction painting a canvas stretched below them on the ground. They were soon joined by Eiko and Koma and, when all had finished painting, a brightly colored portrait of a woman was attached to ropes and raised aloft to glow against the dark foliage and the night sky.

Charian slowly crossed the space, holding herself in a position akin to that of the woman in the portrait. Peace also moved ceremoniously. With his unruffled turns, sinkings, and languid stretches on the ground, this remarkably lithe young man recalled Nijinsky's Faune, and set me wondering what he might be like in that role.

The choreography that followed for Eiko and Koma and the young dancers had many turns and bends during which time seemed to slow, calm arm and hand gestures that could be likened to serene gestural conversations, and moments when everyone looked lost in thought. At one point, Eiko gazed tenderly at Charian, embraced her, and stretched on the ground beside her, only to tremble, as if weeping. Koma and Peace also sank to the earth and, moments later, rose to gaze at the scroll paintings before leaving. Some of the comings and goings late in this 60-minute production seemed protracted, and events might flow more directly forward if a few minutes could be trimmed from it.

Yet the conclusion was poignant. Eiko and Koma kept struggling to rise while the young people tenderly assisted them until all four dancers appeared to support one another. Themes thereby connected both Cambodian works. Whereas the first honored art as a way of remembering and creating, the new one suggested that younger and older generations need each other as mentors and helpers to move onward.

This idea will be more fully expressed this summer at the American Dance Festival in Durham N.C., June 25-27, when Eiko and Koma revive their "Grain" of 1983 for Charian and Peace, and all four dancers appear in the premiere of "Quartet."

Eiko and Koma's Cambodian tales proclaim that art is an aspect of life worth knowing and that life is an art we had better know well.


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