For the first time in 31 years of performing together, the husband-and-wife duo Eiko & Koma are dancing with another person. In Be With (opening at the Joyce January 29), they share the stage with 81-year-old Anna Halprin, an experimental-dance pioneer who moved to California in 1945, after working on Broadway with Charles Weidman. Cellist Joan Jeanrenaud, formerly of the Kronos Quartet, will play her own compositions.
Eiko & Koma, born in Japan, moved to New York in 1976 and met Halprin a year later. “She was the first in the dance community to support our work,” Koma says. More recently, when the pair saw Halprin immersed in mud and water in a series of photographs, they were moved by her interaction with nature, and asked her to collaborate.
“I thought it was absolutely crazy,” Halprin recalls. “We’re on opposite ends of the country, different ages and cultures, and I’d never worked in somebody else’s piece. But those factors won me over.”
“You can see the collaboration between Jewish and Japanese culture,” says Eiko. “But it’s not only race. Be With is a meditation on what it is to be together.” Yet Eiko & Koma never dance with each other. “It was Anna’s rule, and formed the choreography,” Eiko says. “She’s very stubborn.”
“We have respect and a deep friendship,” Halprin comments, “although artistically we’re at opposite poles.” She describes her work as direct and messy, while Eiko & Koma speak of exploring nature and a more subtle approach. “But we all crave the same thing, to meet each other’s needs. We negotiated until we had a meeting place.” The events of September 11 and Eiko & Koma’s trip to Auschwitz also influenced the piece. “Human beings are always making things—buildings, bodies—they want to last,” Koma says. “But not everything will survive.”
“Dance is ephemeral,” Eiko adds. “We know it ends.”