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Jack Anderson

The Hungers of Eiko and Koma

Eiko and Koma: "Hunger"
Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue, Chelsea
October 28-November 2, Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.,
Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m., $39, $25, $19
Tickets: (242) 242-0800 or www.joycwe.org
Reviewed by Jack Anderson , October 30, 2008
"Hunger"by Eiko and Koma at Joyce Theater, Dancer: Eiko . Photo by Gregory Georges.

With their slow-motion depictions of sentient creatures and non-human primordial forces struggling and enduring, Eiko and Koma have long concerned themselves with hungers for sustenance, hungers that cannot always be satisfied. But these are not the only sorts of hungers these Japanese performers and choreographers care about. Life may involve hungers for companionship and love,and there are hungers for transcendence that express themselves in spirituality or art. The new "Hunger" expresses all these longings.

Such themes have especially come to the fore in the creations of Eiko and Koma since 2004, when they began working with students at the Reyum Art School in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where their contacts with Cambodian people made them sensitive to that nation's grisly modern history. Two Reyum students, Charian and Peace, both of them painters and dancers, have appeared with Eiko and Koma on several occasions since 2006, and they join them again in "Hunger," a revision and expansion of a work called "Grain," from 1983, which also incorporates material from "Rust" (1988).

Backdrops by Charian and Peace in "Hunger" at Joyce Theater. Photo by Al Hall.

Although Eiko and Koma productions tend to be Spartan, "Hunger" is rather elaborate. There are five performers: the four dancers, of course, plus Joko Sutrisno, who contributes moments of live vocal and gamelan music (other musical selections are recorded). David Ferri provides atmospheric lighting, there is a colored floorcloth by Clayton Campbell, and painted backdrops by Charian and Peace. All this is impressive. But it may be too much.

Memorable images occur throughout the 80-minute creation: people plastered in pain against a chain-link fence or tottering while extending their hands as if desperately begging; people scattering or ferociously devouring rice; people touching each other in ways suggesting both charitable solicitude and erotic desires.

Yet the sights and sounds fail to cohere. Too many things seem to happen, and there are distracting blackouts. As a result, events never build cumulatively and exert little of the hypnotic power one has come to expect of Eiko and Koma. Whereas many of their previous efforts have been highly concentrated, in "Hunger" they appear to be trying to expand their theatrical vision. But expansion has brought diffusion with it.

Nevertheless, the conclusion proved stirring. Charian and Peace painted the image of a bird on a canvas hung over the metal fence. Then both this giant painting and the floorcloth rose upward in what truly seemed a symbol of a hungered-for transcendence.



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