If dancing, as most people knew it, was moving rhythmically to music, what would happen if they stripped away those most basic elements? What if the music no longer matched the movement, and what if the movement itself no longer matched any Western notion of rhythm?
These were the questions the pair began exploring in the early '70s, and they continue to do so today. The Eiko & Koma artistic world is insular and idiosyncratic: The two only perform and choreograph their own works. These are characterized by spare but bold set and costume design, but also, most obviously, by their glacial pace.
The raising of an arm, for instance, can take a minute or more -- but what at first seems frustrating or even ridiculous eventually gives way to a narrative that pack an emotional wallop. The spare movements somehow all add up to examine life, death, and any number of less brutal subjects in between in a way that must be seen to be believed.
Cultural warriors of the avant-garde have several opportunities to do so this weekend when Tigertail Productions fetes the pair for a 40th anniversary celebration.
On Friday and Saturday night at 8:30 p.m., Eiko & Koma perform their landmark pieces Raven, Night Tide, and White Dance at the Colony Theatre (1040 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach; 305-324-4337; tigertail.org). Tickets to the performances cost $20 to $60.
For free, too, you can join them at the ground level for a "delicious movement" workshop from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday at New World (25 NE 2nd St., 7th Floor, Studio D, Miami), where the pair will demonstrate how, sometimes, stillness is the most powerful movement of all.
Below, check out these highlights from the pieces they'll perform in Miami.
Choreographed in 2010, this is one of the pair's newest works, originally designed as the centerpiece of their current three-year retrospective project. In this clip, it's easy to feel the work's intended focus on people's primal connection with the land. Another important influence here is both Eiko and Koma's experience of growing up in a post-WW-II landscape of destruction. The minimalist, but primitive, set design and costumes here are created from burned materials, which the live audience is meant to smell as part of the experience.
This piece is one of the pair's oldest -- actually, it was the first they ever performed in America, and has been revived just for the retrospective project. The unique nature of each performance highlights the pair's improvisational, largely self-taught origins. "We liked the idea of being a singer-songwriter sort of a dancer as something not at all capitalistic, but we knew nothing about choreography," they recount jointly in their choreographer's notes about the revival. "For each performance we decided roughly what each of us would or might do in what order and always titled our performance White Dance."
Upon visiting New York for the first time, though, they decided to make "a little more choreographic effort," deciding on music, costume, and program notes, and the piece more or less gelled into its current form in the mid-'70s. The excerpt above is from a performance in 1976.
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Dating from 1984, this is -- saucy! -- Eiko & Koma's first performance to feature full nudity. Titillating, it is not. The utter lack of movement in much of the piece was influenced by a period in which the pair lived in solitude in the Catskills, and as such is meant to represent "the movement of the mountains." This excerpt is from a 2010 performance of the piece at the American Dane Festival.