Theater

Slow Dancing In a Portable Universe

by

The custom-made black trailer, about the
size of an ice-cream truck, will look pretty
anonymous until around 9 p.m., when its doors are opened (eventually on all four sides), revealing the latest environment for an Eiko & Koma performance. The Japanese performer-choreographers, New Yorkers since 1976, have created a repertory of mesmerizing, leisurely works in which their bodies’ sculptural shapes seem attuned to natural cycles and settings.

The Caravan Project, the “living installation” that arrives this week at two locations in Manhattan, brings them into urban landscapes, in contrast to their 1995 River, which they performed in more peaceful outdoor settings in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and upstate New York, as well as indoors at the BAM Majestic Theater. In the new piece, Eiko notes, “We are not controlling the audience. We become part of the scenery, so to speak— we become one of their choices.” She and Koma discuss their new venture, sitting comfortably on the floor of their midtown Manhattan high-rise apartment. “It’s like a mobile library or museum, which we bring to the people.”

Within the trailer, Eiko and Koma— who design their own settings and costumes— have created an environment out of draped cheesecloth, twigs, driftwood, and other natural elements. “It’s like a structure with a hill and a cave. Sometimes we place ourselves up in the mountain, or we can be down below, almost like a little valley,” Koma explains. Shifts in lighting are designed “to support the atmosphere, to remind people the time is changing,” says Eiko.

She says the space— by far the smallest in which they have ever created a performance— is “like a cage,” but also describes it as “a cradle,” explaining that “we made it, so it’s not like someone asked us to be in it. The environment is what we imagined. It feels right, once we are in there.”

“With the doors open, you can feel the wind, the outdoor space. It’s very cozy,” adds Koma.

Last year, they took on a very different challenge, creating a living gallery installation at the Whitney Museum. For four weeks, eight hours daily, they were on view to spectators, who could quickly pass through or linger indefinitely. “Performing in the Whitney was very liberating. In a theater, people come to see, say, 90 minutes of the work, so we have to serve them that piece,” Eiko observes. “There’s a beginning, middle, and end— all that is expected. Whereas in the museum, it’s not our business to decide how long they should stay. They were deciding how much time they wanted to spend with us.

“So this Caravan Project is very much an extension of that. In the park, people can just see from a far end, or they can decide to come much closer. They should not feel trapped or limited, because it’s quite open-ended. There is no point of seeing ‘everything’— because everything keeps changing anyway.”