Dance: Koma's feeling for snow

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The Independent Culture


AS A dusky blue light gradually comes up on the stage, a robed man, Koma, is discovered sitting quietly near the front, holding a longbow and arrow. A few feathers drop gently, like snow on to the blue ground (we should imagine ice, perhaps), as they will almost all through the action. The sound of an a cappella chorus, Chanticleer, singing old religious music breathes through the air. For the longest time nothing else happens, then Koma slowly lifts his bow and, very suddenly, fires. A harsh sound; darkness.

This is the beginning of Wind, a production new to London by that gifted, enigmatic Japanese couple Eiko & Koma, their first here for several years. Always before they have performed their own choreography alone; this time they are joined by their second son, Shin Otake, aged 10. When light resumes he is found at the back, clutching an arrow to his stomach. And although he soon departs (well, soon by this choreography's extremely slow criteria), at the end his father carries him back and lays him down alone, to roll gently over as the work concludes.

What Eiko & Koma do in between is stand or lie, roll, stretch, twist, reach out, always quietly, always slowly. For a while they dance without their clothes: nude as in art galleries, not naked as in porn shows, and creating shapes rather than sex. It is in this section that you actually see the wind that gives the piece its title, blowing the feather-snow across the stage.

But always there is ambiguity. The snow on the floor may be clouds in a weather map. An arrow could possibly be a fishing rod. This couple expect you to use your imagination. If you are not in tune with their aims, what they offer must look silly, tiresome, pretentious. But watched in a sympathetic spirit, they become elemental figures, part of a strange, cold landscape that is far away in space and time from our everyday life.

The artistic origins of Eiko & Koma are in the post-war Japanese dance form called butoh, and they keep some of its trademarks - the freedom with time, the bodies painted white. But they have come under many other influences, among which I would guess the most important might be the visual arts and philosophic thought.

The outcome is something entirely different from any of the more brisk European or American choreography we have seen earlier as part of the Dance Umbrella festival, now approaching its end. But it is also far from characteristic of Japanese dance or theatre; maybe Japanese paintings have done more to help form it.

Personally, I prefer to think of it as the product of a distinctively intelligent couple, giving their own take on life and the world. They deserved a much bigger audience than turned up for their opening on Tuesday.