For Eiko and Koma, it's a lot of work being 'Naked'

Eiko and Koma
For the last two weeks performers Eiko and Koma have spent six hours a day, six days a week, rolling slowly in a pile of dirt straw and feathers at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
Image courtesy Walker Art Center

For the last two weeks performers Eiko and Koma have spent six hours a day, six days a week, rolling slowly in a pile of dirt straw and feathers at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

During their performance, Eiko and Koma lie naked on what they call the island. They move constantly, but very slowly, through the soil and feathers. It can take minutes to lift a hand or turn a leg.

Pale make-up covers their bodies. There's little sound other than water dripping from the ceiling.

"It really has been a marathon," says Eiko.

Sitting, fully clothed, before the start of the next six-hour show, Eiko, and her husband, Koma, are very animated, at least compared with how they look in the show.

Eiko & Koma
Eiko & Koma performance at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
Walker Art Center Photo: Anna Lee Campbell

"Physically challenging," Koma says with a small smile. "Very challenging."

"Naked" depicts the aging human condition. The movements may be small, but they carry a lot of weight, Eiko said.

"We are part of a picture where people can project something ancient, something weak, something fragile," she said. "And that takes a physical strength in a very strange way because we are not moving in a normal way."

It's also tiring.

Gallery visitors can come and go at will, but can sit just a couple of feet from where Eiko and Koma lie naked. Eiko said that while they don't look at the audience they are very aware of being watched. She knows opening her eyes can be startling for the audience, and she has to be careful with every move.

"So part of the fatigue I think is mental actually," she said. "Like it's not like people watching my face. They may be watching my cheek, or behind my ears. And it's really delicious in a way as a dancer being watched that closely. But again this is so close, it's a new experience for us."

Performance view
The performance area is hidden behind canvas curtains which have been scorched and covered in feathers. People outside can peek through the holes to see what is happening inside.
Walker Art Center Photo: Anna Lee Campbell

It been just one of many new things during this run. They have had audience members whisper to them. And then there was the man who was quite taken aback. They re-enact what happened:

"'What's this? This is crazy,'" mimics Eiko.

"'Insane!'" adds Koma.

"'This is INSANE!,'" she echoes. "And then they left," she laughs.

"And I kind of agreed."

There was a gallery visitor who got down on the floor just inches away from them and rested there for a while, just watching. There have been children who have dragged their parents in to see the performance, and then resisted leaving. The Walker's Bart Ryan said many people seem startled.

"A lot of people walk in, and they kind of gasp, or they look incredulously at each other or they laugh a little," he said. "Sometimes they'll leave again, but I've noticed very often they'll come back, as if they have walked out, maybe read a little bit of the text, thought about it a little bit more and said to each other, 'OK let's just do this.'

"And they come back and often they sit for 15 minutes or longer even."

Ryan say watching people come and go is part of the "Naked" experience, as is how individual visitors feel.

"While the piece doesn't change in any kind of dramatic way, every time you return you kind of bring your own kind of mood and what you are think about to it, and it feels very different on every occasion," he said.

Over a thousand people came to see Naked on the opening Saturday. The Walker expects many more before the end of the show on Nov. 30.

But there are quiet times. "I would like to say to the listeners, if you want to be quiet with us, please come in the morning," Eiko said.

There are even times when there is no-one there at all, but Eiko and Koma keep performing.

"I feel like a dog, waiting for someone to come and pet me," Eiko laughs. "Very lonely."

"Sometimes I feel like an animal in the zoo, before they open the gate," Koma said.

But Naked won't be done after the Walker run ends. Eiko and Koma have just been invited to remount the show in New York and Chicago in coming months.

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