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Forrest Gander on Eiko & Koma

Naked as the striations of shadow at her ribs and haunch quiver as she breathes.

Naked between exhalation and—

Naked with hidden fans blowing, a few feathers undulating on the heap.

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You see them live, Eiko & Koma, and time slows down and opens up at once. The time that has directed you all your life so that you wake just before your alarm goes off and you know the feel of how long it takes to get from home to office, that given, your internal clock, it isn’t given. You realize it’s not given when you watch Eiko & Koma because you are suspended in their time which is geological and then, inside their time, you find time to become more than yourself. You are lifting your right wrist when Koma lifts his wrist, you are inhaling as Eiko’s ribcage expands. Your body has been ensorcelled and recruited, no, it has entered into a communion with those who move so slowly on stage, whose bodies shift and lose their recognizably mammalian contours and come, lente, lente, to resemble something you never imagined.

Years ago, I sent Eiko & Koma a letter. So when the Walker Art Museum was putting together a comprehensive monograph of their work, the 320-page Eiko & Koma: Time is Not Even, Space is Not Empty, Eiko contacted me and asked if I would write for it.

For two years I followed them, taking notes as they developed new work, interviewing them between rehearsals, watching them perform in New York, Durham, Minneapolis, Providence. In Minneapolis, where they accepted a long residency at the Walker, I stayed all day for several days in a row. At one point, Koma called me into the performance and had me touch his shoulder and then Eiko’s shoulder. (I had told him once that I could tell more about a person by touching them on the shoulder than by talking to them for two hours. In my suddenly cumbersome clothes, holding my palm to their bare flesh while an audience watched, I could tell nothing but that I was extremely nervous.)

There was a woman who also showed up all week and watched, like me, for hours in the dark. Later I learned that her son was in a coma, that she spent her non-working hours in the hospital with him. The rest of her time, she watched Eiko & Koma in “Naked.” On stage, Eiko and Koma remained separated by a heap of burned feathers and scorched earth. They seemed to be trying to find each other, like two blind pupae, stretching, lifting their heads at different moments, almost making contact, then falling away. The liminal zone they created became, for the woman who sat with me, whose son was just beyond her reach, a powerful metaphor. For others, the experience generated other metaphors.

I came to write a series of poems based on specific performances that I’ve witnessed over a span of twenty years. Not description, but enactment in another medium.

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Excerpt from "Naked"
Forrest Gander’s 
Eiko & Koma, a series of poems regarding their work, is out now as a New Directions Poetry Pamphlet.
Photo Credit  © Anna Lee Campbell