Arts & Lectures hosted an unforgettable performance featuring Japanese dancers Eiko and Koma, with Margaret Leng Tan on piano on Thursday, May 1 at Campbell Hall. Eiko and Koma and Tan performed “Mourning,” a haunting, lyrical piece consisting of Tan reciting somber piano melodies and Eiko and Koma crafting extremely refined, calculated movements onstage.
“Mourning” was very aptly titled, as it was meant to conceptually convey a sense of mourning for man’s cruelty, and elicit “remorse for the pain that humans have inflicted upon the earth and all of its living beings.” The tone of the piece was well suited to the program’s stated purpose, as the Gothic, melancholy music and richly textured background set reinforced the slow, apprehensive movements of the dancers. The idea of nature and the environment was evoked very effectively, and the pain and suffering that the performers’ movements symbolized was striking, emotional, and moving, however subtle and nuanced it was.
Watching Eiko and Koma as they slowly moved around and explored their surroundings onstage almost paralleled a mimetic act, and the extreme, mechanical stillness and angular precision of their movements further emphasized the concept of them as primitive beings in nature. The constant resistance and apprehension they exhibited were highly interpretive of the tension they felt as a result of struggling to survive, and the pathos was well-elicited by the fluctuating sounds of jarring, harsh notes followed by the more solemn melodies. At times, the dancers would convulse in manic, wild fits of energy with the piano following with a pounding-like distortion, elevating the intensity of the performance to all new heights. The grim desperation and despairing anguish was readily accessible, and it became increasingly apparent that the corruption of external forces was tarnishing the innocence and purity of these subjected beings.
The themes of death and grieving were also manifest, as the dancers would periodically lie still on the floor in repose, and would constantly embrace each other to seek solace in the fact that they only had each other. At times, one of the dancers seemed to be performing a sort of ritual on the other, perhaps symbolizing a mourning-like ceremony as he scattered leaves on her inanimate body. The dancer would be repeatedly brought to life, however, as the mood would shift suddenly into a more turbulent, savage one and the shrill, maddening pace of the music would ensue. This unrelenting intensity would sometimes contribute to feeling like the audience was watching a surreal psychodrama, ala the films of Jean Cocteau.
There was an undeniable quality of the avant-garde and experimentalism in “Mourning,” not only in the choreography and instrumentalism, but in the abstract commentary behind it. Tan succeeded in challenging conventional boundaries and in establishing an unprecedented level of connection and communication with her audience, as everybody empathized with her message and view of the world.