Flowers Cracking Concrete: Eiko & Koma’s Asian/American Choreographies

Flowers Cracking Concrete: Eiko & Koma’s Asian/American Choreographies

by Rosemary Candelario

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<P>Flowers Cracking Concrete is the first in-depth study of the forty-year career of Eiko &amp; Koma—two artists from Japan who have lived and worked in New York City since the mid-1970s, establishing themselves as innovative and influential modern and postmodern dancers. They continue to choreograph, perform, and give workshops across the United States and around the world. Rosemary Candelario argues that what is remarkable about Eiko &amp; Koma's dances is not what they signify but rather what they do in the world. Each chapter of the book is a close reading of a specific dance that reveals a choreographic theme or concern. Drawing on interviews, live performance, videos, and reviews, Candelario demonstrates how ideas have kinesthetically and choreographically cycled through Eiko &amp; Koma's body of work, creating dances deeply engaged with the wider world through an active process of mourning, transforming, and connecting.</P><P><B>Hardcover is un-jacketed.</B></P>

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819576491
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
Publication date: 07/05/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 302
File size: 10 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

<P>ROSEMARY CANDELARIO has published work in the Journal of Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, International Journal of Screendance, The Oxford Handbook of Dance and the Popular Screen, and The Scholar &amp; Feminist Online. She is Assistant Professor at Texas Woman's University.</P>

Read an Excerpt



Eiko & Koma had their New York premiere with White Dance at Japan Society's Japan House on May 6, 1976. The delicate yet tension-suffused dance featured periods of extended stillness punctuated by moments of absurdity: a slap, a cry, a cascade of potatoes. Although only a one-night engagement, the performance enabled a six-month sojourn in the United States, including subsequent performances at The Cubiculo, The Performing Garage assisted by Dance Theater Workshop, and the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center (the latter under the title The White Moth). Prominent dance critics at The Village Voice, Dance Magazine, and Soho News called the work "shocking in some way I can't articulate" and "profoundly exciting," in part for the way it "coheres and engages our interest because we watch Eiko and Komo [sic] repeatedly enter, inhabit, and leave the inextricably linked states of fragility and determination." How is it that two Japanese student activists turned dancers were able to create such a stir in New York, both uptown at the venerable Japan Society and NYPL and downtown at venues known for producing avant-garde and postmodern performance? Where did this dance come from? What was it about their dance that left dance critics unable to articulate meaning yet captivated nonetheless?

This chapter examines the development of Eiko & Koma's political and aesthetic commitments during their early years in Japan and their initial forays into dance performance in Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States. I contend that their choreography evidences from the very beginning an oppositional stance that although devoid of explicit activist messages nonetheless proposes ways of being in the world that challenge structures of power. It is also during this time that Eiko & Koma can be observed making decisions about what is important to them and how to incorporate it into their dancing. As Eiko said in a 1988 interview, "The question is: How shall I continue? What do I preserve and what do I not take in? What do I fight against in consideration of keeping something that I care about?" I open with an introduction to Eiko and Koma's background growing up in postwar Japan and coming-of-age as activists in late 1960s and early 1970s Tokyo. The focus then turns to their formation as dancers and dance makers from 1971 to 1976, first in Japan with the key figures of butoh, Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno, then through more than two years of performance and study in Europe, including with Mary Wigman dancer Manja Chmiel, and ending with their first performances in the United States. This period of movement from one continent to another parallels the pair's movement away from the "utter darkness" of their ankoku butoh teachers toward their own White Dance. At the same time, their trajectory provides the opportunity to retrace some of the paths of twentieth-century modern dance history.

The Dance of Utter Darkness

In a time line Eiko & Koma created for their Retrospective Project, the dancers constructed a chronological representation of their lives and career. With this document, the pair situated their body of work historically, culturally, and politically, including not only notable moments from their career, but also significant events such as the Beatles' first concert in Tokyo, the beginning of the Vietnam War, and their own participation in Jimmy Carter's 1980 presidential campaign. Notably, the time line begins not with Koma's birth in provincial Niigata on Japan's northwestern coast in 1948 and Eiko's in Tokyo in 1952, but with the defeat of Japan in 1945. By marking their own beginnings with this decisive ending, an act of aggression and destruction unparalleled in human history, they acknowledge this moment as a major rupture, a turning point after which nothing can be the same. With this deliberate staging of their relationship to history, Eiko & Koma demonstrate how their sense of time extends beyond what we normally think of as beginnings and endings, a quality that has become characteristic of the sense of time in their work. The time line also places the dancers' births in the context of the end of the US occupation of Japan and the duration of the Korean War, and therefore subject to and implicated in geopolitical entities and events well beyond the local.

Though this act of staging their relationship to history is a recent one, there is no doubt that aftershocks of war and occupation resonated in both of their lives. Eiko and Koma were small children during the period of reconstruction after the intense destruction of World War II. Hiroshima and Nagasaki of course were devastated by the atomic bombings, but many other cities, including Tokyo, were firebombed and had to be rebuilt. Evidence of the war lingered, through broken infrastructure, the visible evidence of wounded war veterans, and US military occupation. Even after occupation officially ended in 1952, US military bases in Japan served as supply stations for the Korean War and later for the war in Vietnam, keeping armed conflict in the forefront of people's minds, even as Korean residents of Japan were relocated to North and South Korea.

Takashi Koma Yamada's parents split up when he was still small. His father, reportedly haunted by the war, took Koma's brother, while Koma remained with his mother. Their life together in the often snow-covered port city of Niigata was modest. Koma talked in a movement workshop about how his mother would split an egg with him during his childhood, giving him the yolk to eat with his rice, taking only the white for herself. In contrast, Eiko Otake was the only child of a banker and homemaker. Though based in Tokyo, her family spent a number of years living in Tochigi Prefecture in rural central Japan for her father's job, which gave Eiko an early appreciation for nature. In the midst of this solid middle-class foundation, arts and politics were also strong currents in the Otake household. Both of Eiko's grandmothers were geishas (indeed, Eiko has worn one of her grandmother's silk kimonos as a costume for years), and her grandfather was an artist. And despite her father's profession, he was also a communist. In this politically active and creative environment, Eiko took three years of modern dance classes as a child and played the piano, but reportedly did not have an affinity for either.

The mid-1950s through the early 1970s in Japan was a time of intense change, including rapid industrialization and urbanization coupled with enormous economic growth. These developments were not disconnected from postwar US involvement in the country, a relationship concentrated in (but not limited to) the US-Japan Mutual Cooperation and Security Treaty, referred to in Japan as "Anpo." The treaty came up for renewal in 1960 and 1970 and in both cases was driven through by the ruling party and riot police, despite massive protests against it. In the wake of the treaty's renewal, the government promoted what William Marotti calls "a depoliticized everyday world of high growth and consumption and a dehistoricized national image" in order to defuse the opposition. By the time of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, this strategy appeared to be successful. All evidence of postwar destruction was gone, and in its place was a modern, regulated, thriving version of Japan for the world to see.

In the midst of such radical changes, many Japanese struggled with how to negotiate and express their relationship to those changes. As Marotti eloquently states, "Artists in Japan discovered hidden forms of domination in the everyday world and imagined ways in which their own practices might reveal, or even transform, such systems at their point of articulation in people's daily existence." In other words, even as structural and societal changes were implemented, a vibrant avant-garde was on the rise, eager to develop and implement contestatory and interventionist practices that could impact the new status quo, both during the Anpo protests and in the deflated aftermath of the security treaty's passage. The Neo Dada Organizers, for example, were a group of nine artists including Genpei Akasegawa, Ushio Shinohara, and Masunobu Yoshimura who came together for anti-Anpo protests and a series of three exhibitions in 1960. In both protest and art (or more precisely, anti-art), they favored physical and sometimes violent action with everyday objects and rubbish: throwing stones at the Diet, slashing canvases, karate chopping chairs. Akasegawa then went on to found Hi Red Center (Hai Reddo Senta, active 1962–1964) with Natsuyuki Nakanishi and Jiro Takamatsu. That group created public events that commented on and critiqued the sanitizing of Tokyo even as they conspicuously participated in it. Their event, HRC shutoken seiso seiri sokushin undo ni sanka shiyo! (Let's participate in the HRC campaign to promote cleanup and orderliness of the metropolitan area!, 1964), featured Hi Red Center members in white lab coats and surgical masks sweeping and scrubbing sidewalks in the Ginza neighborhood of Tokyo shortly before international attendees of the Olympic games arrived. These artists took the changes in society, politics, and the city and performed them to their extreme and absurd, if logical, conclusions.

Not all artists of the avant-garde were interested in direct action, however. In the midst of pervasive anxiety about urbanization and industrialization, there were also frequent attempts to reconnect to or re-create tradition. This instinct sprang at least partially from the reality of rural to urban migration and the sense that rural traditions were being lost. The reach for tradition was, however, more connected to a modernist interest in indigenous art, rather than a form with which rural folks would have identified. In this case, rather than being an opportunity for an encounter with the strange and foreign, as with European surrealism, the turn was to Japan's own indigenous and folk practices. For many Japanese artists, including architect Kenzo Tange, visual artist Taro Okamoto, and designer Kiyoshi Awazu, this was evident through their turn to the prehistoric Jomon period for figurative and conceptual inspiration. This served two ends. First, as Michio Hayashi so elegantly put it: "The primitive cultural force is summoned as the dialectical other vis-à-vis modern technology." Second, the turn to the indigenous and the folk gestured to a people unsullied by the consequences of the nationalist-modernist ideology that drove the state for almost a century. The idea of a prenational Japan provided an alternative model to both Japanese empire and industrialization in the midst of midcentury upheaval and restructuring.

Eiko and Koma, like many young people in Japan, confronted the fundamental changes in society by joining the vibrant student protest movement that swept Japan, and much of the world, in the 1960s. Although aware of the dynamic spirit of avant-garde experimentation, Eiko says, "We were too busy with anti-government and anti-Vietnam War demonstrations to pursue art seriously." Koma joined the movement when he arrived in Tokyo as a political science student at Waseda University in 1967. Eiko, following her family's example, had been involved in activism from an early age and even led the first strike by Japanese high school students in 1969. When she entered the law department at Chuo University in 1970, her activism continued.

The 1960s Japanese student movement had its roots in the postwar years. The 1947 Constitution, though drafted by an American team led by General Douglas MacArthur, concentrated Japanese optimism about liberal changes in Japanese society, including individual rights, a democratic government, and a commitment to international peace. Many people, however, felt betrayed by the Japanese government's military relationship with the United States as concentrated in Anpo, which they felt contradicted Article 9's renunciation of war. By 1968, the resurgent New Left student protest movement had expanded its concerns to include Vietnam, Okinawa (which remained under US control until 1972), and the very nature of universities and education. Noting the relationship between the Japanese government and higher education, students resisted indoctrination into state ideology, which they linked to capitalism and militarism. The groups Zengakuren (the All Japan Federation of Students' Autonomous Bodies, founded in 1948) and Zenkyoto (Joint Struggle Committee, 1968–1970) were at the center of this unrest, a mass movement employing direct action, riots, strikes, and occupations. By the early 1970s a lack of effective unity at the time of the 1970 renegotiation of Anpo as well as police suppression and violence led to splintering of the movement into factions. Finally, the public and bloody United Red Army fiasco in 1972, in which a revolutionary armed group killed some of its own members and engaged in a drawn-out standoff with police, signaled the end of the student movement.

In 1971 both Eiko and Koma had begun to feel the effects of the dogmatic and increasingly violent student movement, and they began to seek other outlets for their oppositional beliefs. Eiko explains the transition in this way:

While numerous political theorists — none standing out any more than the others — presented us with logic, idealism, and tactical thinking, somehow these things led us to despair. By contrast, [artists such as filmmaker Oshima Nagisa, playwright/theater director Kara Juro, artist Kudo Tetsumi, and designer/artist Yokoo Tadanori, as well as European filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard and Federico Fellini] showed us how they built their lives upon their confusion and frustration. In their works, we sensed that the means and the end are inseparable, that being revolutionary means being radical, and that the body is our vessel and foundation for exploration, experimentation, and expression.

For Eiko and Koma, then, the move from the barricades to the dance studio was not about abandoning their political ideals but about finding a new, sustainable way to practice them.

Given the close associations between art and protest in 1960s Japan, Eiko and Koma's transition from one movement to the other is not so unusual. Marotti notes that members of the new avant-garde made "an attempt to conduct politics directly out of artistic performance, neither as an adjunct to protest nor through the conventional forms of agitprop but rather through the political potential of their practice itself." Though the methods of protest were different, the goals were often aligned. For example, the policy statement of the 1969 conference of the student body of Waseda University declared: "We start from individuals … There should exist neither sectarian nor bureaucratic logic. We must start speaking with 'words' from inside of ourselves. … Let us found a radical struggle based on self-reliance and individualistic conceptions." This call for individual determination as opposed to dependence on institutions or ideology echoed the turn to personal, immediate experience already present in the new avant-garde, particularly through performance, installation, and even painting that evidences the involvement of an active body. These practices were especially evident in the Gutai Art Association, including Kazuo Shiraga's Challenging Mud performance (1955) and his method of painting with his feet; Shozo Shiramoto's paintings made by hurling glass bottles full of paint; and Saburo Murakami's Passing Through (1956), in which he propelled himself through twenty-one paper screens.

For Koma, leaving the student protest movement and New Left politics meant leaving behind the entrenched hierarchies and leader-follower roles of the old society. For both Eiko and Koma, withdrawing from the student movement was about opposition to dogmatism and violence. Throughout their work in the 1970s, they repeatedly rejected the black and red flags of their movement days in favor of the white flag of surrender. One could also see their rejection of a single meaning in their work as an ongoing reaction against dogmatism. And yet, they also seem to be perpetually working through these early experiences. The themes of joint struggle and interpersonal violence, for example, repeat over and over across their body of work as part of a cycle of violence, remorse, mourning, and new beginnings.

As Eiko and Koma each made the transition from activist to artist, each dove into the thriving Tokyo avant-garde art scene. They did not have far to go. The Shinjuku area of the city was home to both Waseda University and underground theaters. It was there that they each came upon performances by Tatsumi Hijikata's dancers. By this time, the "new" avant-garde had been active for over fifteen years (in fact, some would say it ended by 1970). Dance and performance were integral parts of the Japanese avant-garde, significantly through Hijikata's dance experiments that pushed the boundaries of the form. Hijikata was born in 1928 in Akita prefecture in northern Japan, where he studied modern dance with Katsuko Masumura, a student of Takaya Eguchi, one of Japan's modern dance pioneers who had traveled to Germany in the 1920s to learn from Mary Wigman. Upon settling in Tokyo, Hijikata studied ballet, jazz, and modern dance with Mitsuko Ando, where he became acquainted with Kazuo Ohno, who along with Hijikata would become a major figure in butoh. The two performed together in Ando's dances while working on other projects. In 1959 Hijikata had his formal choreographic debut with Kinjiki (Forbidden Colors), which he performed with Ohno's son, Yoshito. Taking its title from a Yukio Mishima novel, the dance caused a stir with its shocking homoerotics and violence. Reaction to the dance prompted Hijikata, his wife Akiko Motofuji, and the elder Ohno, among others, to split from the mainstream All Japan Art Dance Association, which had presented Hijikata's dance. At the same time, the notoriety that the piece attracted led to Hijikata being introduced into the avantgarde arts scene by Mishima himself. From then on, Hijikata's work took place not in the context of modern dance but in the avant-garde arts community.


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Copyright © 2016 Rosemary Candelario.
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Table of Contents

<P>Acknowledgments<BR>A Note About Japanese Names and Words<BR>Introduction<BR>From Utter Darkness to White Dance<BR>"Good Things Under 14th Street"<BR>Japanese/American<BR>Dancing-with Site and Screen<BR>Sustained Mourning<BR>Ground Zeroes<BR>"Take Me to Your Heart": Intercultural Alliances<BR>In Lieu of a Conclusion: "Step Back and Forward, and Be There"<BR>Notes<BR>Bibliography<BR>Index</P>

What People are Saying About This

Karen Shimakawa

“Flowers Cracking Concretecontributes a vital perspective to the growing scholarship on the groundbreaking artists Eiko & Koma. Professor Candelario's detailed examination of their artistic development over half a century situates it in relation to discourses of orientalism and Asian American identity in a way that is critically illuminating. It allows us to see the work of Eiko & Koma beyond the dead-ends of (orientalist) "identity" and deracinated aesthetics, while staying firmly grounded in Eiko & Koma's deeply personal and deeply political oeuvre.”

From the Publisher

"Clearly written, Flowers Cracking Concrete offers both a comprehensive, invaluable analysis of Eiko and Koma's work and a compelling, insightful examination. This book is indispensible reading for those interested in the histories and practices of contemporary concert dance, and in the luminous works of these internationally renowned artists."—Judith Hamera, professor of dance, Lewis Center for the Arts, Princeton University

"Eiko & Koma have been staggeringly creative pillars of American dance for decades. Now, Rosemary Candelario has given them their due in this rich picture of them as politically active avant-garde performers with complex Japanese/American identities who address intercultural contact, interfacing with nature, and communal mourning."—Bruce Baird, author of Hijikata Tatsumi and Butoh: Dancing in a Pool of Gray Grits

"Flowers Cracking Concretecontributes a vital perspective to the growing scholarship on the groundbreaking artists Eiko & Koma. Professor Candelario's detailed examination of their artistic development over half a century situates it in relation to discourses of orientalism and Asian American identity in a way that is critically illuminating. It allows us to see the work of Eiko & Koma beyond the dead-ends of (orientalist) "identity" and deracinated aesthetics, while staying firmly grounded in Eiko & Koma's deeply personal and deeply political oeuvre."—Karen Shimakawa, New York University

Bruce Baird

“Eiko & Koma have been staggeringly creative pillars of American dance for decades. Now, Rosemary Candelario has given them their due in this rich picture of them as politically active avant-garde performers with complex Japanese/American identities who address intercultural contact, interfacing with nature, and communal mourning.”

Judith Hamera

“Clearly written, Flowers Cracking Concrete offers both a comprehensive, invaluable analysis of Eiko and Koma’s work and a compelling, insightful examination. This book is indispensible reading for those interested in the histories and practices of contemporary concert dance, and in the luminous works of these internationally renowned artists.”

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