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Flash Review 1, 11-30: Silent Night
The Sounds of Silence from Eiko and Koma

By Peggy H. Cheng
Copyright 2000 Peggy H. Cheng

All movements emerge as if pressed into space with careful precision in Eiko and Koma's "When Nights Were Dark." Seen last night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theater, this piece was, as expected, entirely at the speed of meditation. In this case, the meditative journey was depicted through a slowly moving caravan upon which Eiko and Koma, as both individuals and as couple, move. Accompanied by the chant-like songs composed by Joseph Jennings and sung by the Praise Choir Singers (Tunesha Crispell, Corey Durham, Conway G. Gittens, Clifton Hill, and Michelle Hutcherson), this dark night was in that strange realm of the dream state -- the body arrested in stillness, the mind working overtime.

Moving at the speed of meditation does not mean without movement or without great changes and shifts. With each passing minute, I became more acutely aware and sensed that things were happening, because time felt like it was turning, flipping, getting streeeeeetched out -- I began to look for impressions left in space. It is certainly arguable that moving at this speed can become self-indulgent on the part of the performer, unbearable for the audience. In the case of "When Nights Were Dark" I was, quite simply, taken in by the beauty of the installation (variously described as a cave, a womb, and a volcano -- all of which the caravan resembled to me, as well) to a point where I began to dream along with the two beings in their journey upon the caravan. Stories, reasons and landscapes passed through my head as the slow metamorphoses continued: The baring of the vulnerable throat; a rising and sinking chest; the stark image of a hand rising so slowly into the air and out of the soft bottom of this giant canopied bed of moss and twigs; two bare torsos entwining; chins passing then returning for touch.

The caravan itself glowed from within. An integral and stunning component of the piece was lighting designed by Scott Poitras with contributions from Jeff Fontaine. The light, like Eiko and Koma, came and went as if without beginning and end, evoking the dream state, bathing the bodies of Eiko and Koma as they climbed and nestled in the cave/womb. Without this element the piece may have been lost to many, as it requires environment and attention to space; this can probably be attributed to the fact that this dance and its essential component, the caravan, was a travelling piece that has appeared as performance/installation in various outdoor sites in both Chicago and New York. The appearance at BAM's Harvey Theater is the first time this work has "emerged" on a proscenium stage. Perhaps to address the immobility of the audience, the pair has directed the caravan to begin upstage, move downstage, and then rotate over 360 degrees and come off the stage and seem to hover over the stage apron area before retreating again into black-out darkness; of course, all at a snail's pace.

My companion for the evening remarked that video, or a more intimate space may have improved the viewing experience for him -- in fact, made the whole evening more interesting. I too would like this experience, to see the details come into focus. And, I suppose, Eiko and Koma seem to expect that the viewer can be in a meditative state, open and cleared of clutter. Mostly though, this was the kind of night that reminded me of the merits of slowing down and letting yourself indulge in quiet. Out of this hush your imagination may bloom.

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