As we welcome the Eiko & Koma and Eiko Otake collections to Video Data Bank, we are pleased to present a three-month series of VDB TV programs that highlight representative works in these collections. 

For forty years, from 1972–2013, Eiko performed with Koma, under the name Eiko & Koma, who had collaboratively handcrafted all aspects of their theatrical works, including costumes, sets, and props. The pair became known for their movement styles characterized by delicate slowness studded with bold dramatic strokes of their bodies. Their wide range of influences include literature, film, and visual works of post-war Japan and the world. Eiko and Koma have presented their works on stages, in gallery settings, and as site-specific works. They have also performed exclusively for a camera in their ‘Dance For Camera’ series. Their work emphasizes a stillness and slowness that builds tension and allows for the passage of time to play a role in their performances. When performing in a theater or gallery, the elements of the natural world are often brought to the space: the stage or the white box is transformed with dirt, leaves, feathers, and other miscellany. Eiko & Koma have also collaborated with other artists to create multi-disciplinary pieces, including but not limited to, musicians such as pianist Margaret Leng Tan, clarinetist David Krakauer, composer and flutist Robert Mirabal, and collectives such as the Kronos Quartet and the Reyum Art School in Cambodia. 

Eiko Otake’s solo career commenced in 2014 with her project A Body in Places, with the first performance taking place at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. The project developed through her visits to Fukushima, Japan, the site of the 2011 nuclear disaster, where she danced solo in abandoned locations around the city. Photographer William Johnston documented these dances in still photographs. Since then, Eiko has created and performed site-specific variations of A Body in Places at over seventy locations, often in non-traditional spaces such as train stations, streets, churches, and cemeteries. Eiko also created a collaborative endeavor, The Duet Project: Distance Is Malleable in which she partners with notable artists––some from different disciplines––to produce experimental performances. The outcomes of these creative encounters, which are never final, usually result in various forms of presentation including music, dance, video, installation, and more. These works, along with many of Eiko’s stand-alone pieces, often investigate themes of death and dying, history, and the persistence of physical and collective memory. 

Over the past year and a half, VDB collaborated closely with Eiko and her studio to organize, process, and prepare the collections for acquisition and distribution.

This month, VDB is showcasing performance excerpts, dance for camera, and a documentary from the Eiko & Koma collection. At the beginning of their performance careers, Eiko and Koma studied with notable movement and performance artists across the world, most notably in Japan––where they met in 1972––and Europe. In the process, they developed their own form of deliberate and measured movement, a form that evokes primitive emotions like grief and longing. White Dance (1976), which is excerpted in this VDB TV program, was the duo’s first choreographed, full evening-length piece and “was the culmination of the duo’s first period of movement and life research,” according to author Rosemary Candelario. In Wallow and Undertow, both ‘Dance for Camera’ pieces created in the 1980s, Eiko & Koma further explored and expanded the physical vocabulary they were creating. Filmed by videographer James Byrne, Undertow uses light and camera perspective to capture subtle movements in high contrast. In 2007, Eiko & Koma collaborated for the first time with pianist Margaret Leng Tan for Mourning, a performance at the Japan Society. All three collaborators are first-generation Asian Americans. For them, mourning is a grieving not only for man's cruelty to man, but a remorse for the pain that humans have inflicted upon the earth and all of its living beings. The Eiko & Koma collection includes several documentary pieces that depict the artists’ creation processes and share how they prepare for their performances. The Retrospective Project documents the development of their touring exhibition (2009-2012) which was modified for different venues, but often included video documentation, installation, and live performance. 

Next month, VDB TV will highlight works from Eiko’s solo career.