Bodies, Camera, Screen: Eiko & Koma's Immersive Media Dances

Rosemary Candelario

Eiko & Koma are New York-based Japanese American dance artists known for their subtle, focused, and finely controlled movement vocabulary through which they alter the perception of time and space. For over forty years they have created works for the proscenium stage, outdoor sites, galleries, and the camera that address elemental issues of life, survival, death, and rebirth. Their close and unsparing attention to nature, mourning, and human relationships to other humans and the world around them has won them prestigious awards including Guggenheim, MacArthur, and United States Artist Fellowships, Bessies, and Doris Duke Performing Arts Awards. Although the pair typically creates their own costumes, sets, and soundscapes, they have collaborated with a wide range of artists including Kronos Quartet, Margaret Leng Tan, Anna Halprin, and a group of student painters from the Reyum Institute of Arts and Culture in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Eiko & Koma began to make and screen what they call media dances or dances for camera in the early 1980s.1 In addition to projecting the media dances onto large screens and walls, displaying them on wall-mounted or freestanding monitors, and making DVDs available for purchase, Eiko & Koma have also incorporated media dance into live performance, for example projecting their dance for camera, Lament (1985), onto a makeshift canvas screen they held aloft in the current in the outdoor work, River (1995).

Eiko & Koma's choreographic practice develops a particular relationship between the duo's dancing bodies and the sites with which they move. I call this process a "choreography of immersion." By immersion I mean a process of diving deeply and actively into another environment. Immersion suggests being absorbed into and kinesthetically engaged with another element, with the possibility that the process may transform both the bodies and the site. In live performances, this often takes the form of the dancers quite literally immersing themselves in the environment—whether this be an outdoor site such as a particular body of water in River, a built environment such as the set for Mourning (2007), or the installation for Naked (2010). The dance does not happen in the site, but rather emerges from the dancers' bodily relationship with it. Crucially, Eiko & Koma not only immerse themselves in sites, but they make room through their choreography for the audience to immerse themselves as well.

What is impressive about Eiko & Koma's choreography is the way they are able to adapt this live immersive practice to their media dances and intermedia works that bring together performance and media dance into live installations and stage or site works. In Eiko & Koma's media dances, the immersive body-site relationship is effected at three sites: Eiko & Koma's live bodies, the camera, and the screen.2 In this essay, I examine Eiko & Koma's media dances Wallow (1984), Husk (1987), Breath (1999), and Wake (2011); the intermedia "living installation," Breath (1998); and screen structures the duo created for viewing their media dances in Retrospective Project exhibitions (2010-2012). As I trace the possibilities for kinesthetic engagement between bodies and sites across each of these particular works, I call attention to the variety of ways Eiko & Koma choreograph immersion, some more effective than others. While the inherent framing of media dances would seem to limit the viewer's agency, as I will demonstrate Eiko & Koma employ strategies such as mobile frames, long takes, and moving back and forth between live and screenic choreographies in order to provide audiences with the opportunity to immerse themselves in their media dances.

Bodies Immersed in a Site: Wallow

Conceived as a dance for camera version of the proscenium dance Fur Seal (1977), Wallow was choreographed on site at Point Reyes National Seashore in California. Eiko & Koma quite literally immerse themselves in the seals' environment, in contrast to the built environments that characterize their proscenium and installation dances and their other dances for camera. In the live performance Fur Seal, the dancers playfully alternate between imitating seals—lying on the ground, upper body raised forward and up, hands working like flippers—and exploring the full use of their human legs through walks, runs, jumps, balances, and lifts. Like Fur Seal, the media dance Wallow depicts a mating ritual that repeatedly compels the two dancers together and drives them apart, but in contrast the nineteen-minute silent media dance features the attempt to actually embody seals. The transformation of the dancers into seals is given credence by the setting, a rocky coastal scene that annually hosts scores of breeding elephant seals.

Wallow opens with a shot of Eiko lying on her stomach in the sand on a beach, waves lapping her toes. She is a seal making her way onto the beach to mate and give birth. Clad in a dark furry shift, she rests her weight on her chin and her arms, which lay tucked under her torso; her pelvis is raised skyward. Slowly she begins to roll onto her left side, and then back again, the whole operation taking about five minutes. At times, the only indication that the video image is not in freeze-frame is the rushing of a wave around Eiko's body. She lifts now her neck, now her feet. Eyes close, then leisurely open. She is feeling what it means to be on land again, what it means to move on land rather than through water. After six minutes, the scene cuts to show Koma for the first time. He, too, lays in the sand at the edge of the tide, wearing the same furry shift, water rushing at him from around a large rock. Although the viewer does not know for sure where Koma is located in relation to Eiko, one can sense that he is on the same beach, an also-presence. He flops insistently for a moment—is he stuck? —and then rests. He flops again, again. For three minutes he struggles in place.

Following a fade-out, the two approach each other for the first time, raising their torsos off the ground and propelling themselves haltingly forward with their hands cum flippers. They reach for one another with their necks, straining. Scenes fade, one into another. Throughout, the camera maintains a two shot, staying close in on Eiko & Koma's bodies. Although the dancers are immersed in an actual seal breeding ground, the camera focuses not on the sweeping rocky coastline or foamy waves, but the drama of the "seal" mating. When the coupling has ended the two head back towards the sea, parallel to one another, propelled forward by a form of locomotion done lying down on one's stomach without the aid of arms or legs. Visible tracks in the sand mark their passage back to the sea. This is the only establishing shot of the dance, which freezes and then fades on a wave that is about to consume the dancer-seals. The artificial arrest of movement—of the dancers and of the water—invites the viewer to fill in for oneself what happens next.

As in many of Eiko & Koma's works across proscenium, gallery, outdoor, and media settings, they choreograph the piece as a snippet in time, and thus the "ending" marks a viewing boundary in a process that they suggest does not in fact end. The camera is present primarily as an observer of these bodies in this landscape, to record a particular series of moments in time. The shots reinforce the viewer's role as an outside observer—perhaps of a nature documentary—unable to intervene, but continuing to watch with a slightly prurient interest. Eiko later wrote about how they wanted Wallow's camera angle to be at seal-level, but, as she says, "the cameraman could not comply"3 with their wishes.

Despite the distant, static camera, however, there is still room for the viewer to kinesthetically engage with the work. As the water continuously flows in and out of the frame, it reminds us of what is beyond the frame. Not only are the dancers moving, but the site is, too, as waves roll onto the beach from an unseen sea. Filmmakers often use offscreen space to imply that the audience is only seeing a slice of a broader world, and Eiko & Koma use the technique similarly. Eiko writes: "if what is in the frame can suggest what is outside of the frame and relate to it, viewers can sense that what they see is a part of a larger world. They may focus, but they are not bound."4 This desire to allow the audience room to have their own experience with the dance is a constant across Eiko & Koma's body of work.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of this media dance is its intentional lack of sound, as indicated in the opening credits.5 The absence of sound forces the viewer to become an active kinesthetic participant in the media dance, paradoxically listening even more closely, filling in a score by drawing on her own imagination or by experiencing motion (e.g. the crashing of a wave, the blowing of wind through the dancers' hair) as sound. Even in this early media dance with its relatively fixed camera, Eiko & Koma give the viewer the space to not only enter the dance but also extend beyond the dance's frame.

Camera and Screen Immersed in Bodies and Sites: Husk and Breath

In Wallow, Eiko & Koma immersed themselves in a site while the camera remained an outside observer. With Husk, the camera immerses itself in the site of the dancing body. For this media dance, Eiko & Koma worked alone; Eiko performed while Koma operated the camera. Their interest in what they call "eye-angle," not realized in Wallow, is evident here in the placement of the camera on the floor at the same level as the body, and in the way the camera glides along the floor, dancing with Eiko as a partner.6 In fact, Koma mounted the camera on a tennis ball so that he could smoothly maneuver the camera around the space while maintaining its contact with the floor. Using monitors in the space, the pair worked together in the moment of performing/shooting to frame and reframe the movement. The camera fluidly maneuvers around Eiko so that sometimes her feet are closest to the camera, and other times it is her head. Occasionally it is Eiko herself who moves in and out of the frame, as in one shot where a lone leg is dragged across the screen. The camera shifts to frame the body's movement while at the same time the body continues to move, with or against the camera, and in the process redefines the frame. There is both coordination and tension between the two intentions. The result is a nine-minute media dance as one long take with no post-production editing.

Husk opens on an abstract scene accompanied by nature sounds. Leaves, dirt, and the outline of a mountain or a sharply angled branch are discernable in the dim light. A steady breeze blows a leaf through the shot, and everything in the frame softly undulates. After less than a minute, the camera begins a slow pull back and it becomes evident that the opening landscape was in fact an arm tucked behind a back, elbow pointed up. The camera moves with the dancer, taking the viewer in close to explore the body, which is itself the landscape (rather than being set in a landscape as in Wallow). Leaves are scattered across the ground and all around the figure is a deep black, as if the moon were shining a light on this specific scene. The lone figure's face and neck are smeared with dirt, while the rest of the body is enveloped in a heavy cocoon of leaves, feet occasionally visible at the other end. The insistent crickets on the sound score and the constant breeze outpace the slow, constant shifting of the figure. Movement is simultaneously initiated from multiple points of the body, and does not proceed sequentially, giving the impression of innumerable smaller organisms at work in this one figure.

Although the body is eventually identifiable as Eiko, her body (the site) and the camera are already so immersed in one another that they form for the viewer a new collective landscape. In Wallow the camera maintains its distance from the dancers and the site, keeping the coupling seal-dancers well within its frame. Husk's ground-level camera angle, however, by interrupting a unified viewing of Eiko's body, contributes to the perception that there are multiple organisms present and that they are merging in and out of one another. For example, from a supine position, feet planted on the floor, Eiko arches and twists her upper back and neck around so that her right cheek rests in a nest of leaves on the ground. The medium shot captures her face, her sternum, left shoulder, and left leg; but the leaf sheath that covers her skin from sternum to just above the knee blends in with the leaves on the floor, and her black hair mirrors the black background, fragmenting her body and distorting any sort of unified viewing of it. The parts do not seem connected to the same individual body, but seem as a whole with the surroundings. About two-thirds of the way into the media dance, Eiko begins to shed her mulch cocoon, her torso emerging leisurely from it. In the final scene of the piece, her torso disappears from view, leaving the cocoon, blowing leaves, and crickets behind.

What is particularly important about this media dance is that Eiko & Koma found a way for the performer (Eiko) and the camera (Koma) to dance together in a "choreography for body and camera."7 The pair is so well-known as a duo that audiences familiar with their work may read the camera as Eiko's dancing partner; in this way, Koma is present in the screen dance despite his apparent absence. In fact, the camera views Eiko the way that Koma would were he dancing with her in the work: close up and at the same level. This proximity of the camera, and hence the viewer, allows the audience to experience the intimacy with which the dancers typically perform. This close framing directs the viewer to see from a perspective not possible in a live performance. Perhaps to make up for this control, the camera functions more as a body in space rather than a distant observer. This reworking of camera as intimately moving body is Eiko & Koma's invitation to viewers to experience this media dance with their bodies as well as their eyes.

At the same time Eiko & Koma challenge the Husk audience to watch from an immersed position—an eye angle that implies a body lying on the floor and moving with the dancer—the timing stays largely true to their live performances. Eiko writes, "we hope to bring to video a sense of shared endurance similar to that in a theater."8 To accomplish this, they prefer uninterrupted long takes, suggesting that cuts and edits interfere with the experience they are trying to achieve. This tension between long takes and edits is epitomized in Breath, a media dance that developed out of a durational live performance.

Based on the strength of works like Husk, the Whitney Museum of American Art invited Eiko & Koma to create their first "living installation," in which dancers, screen, and audience are all immersed in the same primal scene. For almost four weeks from May 28-June 21, 1998, the duo performed Breath seven hours a day in an intermedia forest environment that they designed, including video projection, dappled lighting, and a set made of raw silk, dirt, and dry leaves. The two dancers performed alternately for one or two hour stretches, such that only one was present in the installation at any given time. As one replaced the other, their choreography created a continuous scene of a lone but not lonely creature nestled underneath a tree in crackling brown leaves and rich humus, propelled in the space by muscles and joints shifting with the subtlety of breath. A museum visitor who happened upon the installation might not notice the naked body at first, blending as it did with the set: an ur-being who has just been disemboweled from the earth, or perhaps an ancient creature decomposing along with the vegetation.

For the Breath set video, Eiko & Koma worked with ideas of body as landscape first explored in Husk. Whereas in that dance for camera Eiko was eventually identifiable as the dancer, the video used in the Breath installation concentrates on the type of abstract images that open Husk. The camera here enlarges, blurs, and abstracts the dancers' body parts such that a shoulder becomes a rock, the curve of a hip a rolling hill, a sharp joint a mountain peak. When this screenic landscape is incorporated into the installation, it is not used as a mere backdrop for the live performance, nor as a representation of the bodies that are in the installation, but as an essential component that co-generates the environment. Projected without a border, the image bleeds into the surroundings, interacting with the dappled and subtly shifting light. In fact, Eiko & Koma choreographed the video as a co-performer, in motion along with the dancers and the breathing set.9 Curator Mathew Yokobosky captures the scene well:

Every element of this installation is moving. There are fans, and the leaves are always fluttering. The bodies are moving. The video is moving. You can almost feel the air moving within the space, too. It's a very different concept of what we normally think of as an art installation, because it's a complete kinetic world.10

What makes a work like Breath unique is that it may be visited in person and is further co-constructed with the audience. Museum visitors may come and go as they please: walking around it, sitting up close, observing from a distance, for a minute, an hour, or multiple times over the course of a month. Of course the audience members were not able to fully enter the immersive environment, only to stand or sit at its edges.

In conjunction with Breath's tenure at the Whitney, Eiko & Koma experimented with converting a live immersive environment into a mediated one, creating a 14-minute screen dance by the same name. Jerry Pantzer directed a professional film crew and co-edited the resulting footage with Eiko. Unlike the live installation, Eiko & Koma appear together in the media dance, now isolated, then connected. The sense of everything being in motion that Yokobosky described above is also present in the media dance: the bodies, site, and camera are always moving, often shifting together as in a common inhale or exhale. The soundscape, too, seems to breathe with the rhythm of the cuts and fades that characterize the first half of the media dance. The second half of the dance is one long take, which brings the viewer into phase with the creatures' alternate timescape.

As in Husk, Breath invites the viewer to understand the camera not just as their eyes, but also as their body. Unlike in the earlier media dance, however, the camera-body here does not lie alongside the dancer at her level, but frequently shifts perspective and eye-angle. The camera moves side to side, up and down, zooms in and out, even canting occasionally, giving the impression of a curious museum visitor who wanders around the larger space: now standing, now kneeling, now walking closer. The camera immerses the viewer in the piece's three-dimensional environment, which evinces a depth not present in Wallow. Even though there is a tension between framing the dance and allowing each viewer to choose where to look, there remains nonetheless ample opportunity for an active kinesthetic viewing from within the frame.

Conflicts arose between Eiko and Pantzer during the editing phase, which culminated in each producing their own version of Breath.11 It is worth quoting Eiko at length in order to understand the source of the tension and what she is seeking from their media dances:

We are no longer resistant to adventurous camera work, sophisticated tools, and elaborate editing, as long as we can decide how to use or ignore them. Breath crescendos into a 7-minute uncut segment of our duet, scored but not choreographed tightly. This segment was the occasion of our biggest dispute[with Pantzer]. Although Jerry understood that Koma and I need an unconventional amount of time to involve a viewer with our bodies, he felt that the uncut phrase was much too long and not cinematic or theatrical. Nevertheless, Jerry agrees that this untreated section is a truthful rendering of what we do in performance.12

This statement reveals the conflict between wanting to produce a purely cinematic creation and the desire to capture the qualities of live performance, a conflict which seemed to be concentrated in this particular disagreement in the tension between cuts and edits on the one hand and long takes on the other. I noted earlier Eiko & Koma's preference for long takes because the pair believes they function in media dance the way their trademark slowness in live performance does, providing what Eiko calls "breathing room"13 for the audience to immerse themselves in the work. Yet it is important that Breath, unlike Husk, does not rely solely on one long take, but preserves some of Pantzer's preferences for shorter edits. Indeed, these cuts, countered as they are with the swelling of sound, feel more kinesthetic than cinematic, like an eye blink, or the pause after an exhale before the lungs begin to expand again. In effect, both Eiko's and Pantzer's editing techniques provide rich opportunities for the audience to engage kinesthetically with the work.

Overimmersion: Wake

Eiko & Koma's most recent media dance, Wake (2011), itself another adaptation for camera of a live installation, Naked (2010), would seem to contradict Eiko's earlier call for "breathing room" in their media dances. James Byrne shot Wake in extreme close up with a body-held camera during Naked's initial month-long run at the Walker Art Center, and edited it a year later with Eiko at Colorado College.14 Whereas the live installation Naked gave the audience many options to immerse themselves in the work—they were able to look through holes in the canvas surrounding the installation, watch from benches or cushions on different sides of the performers, or observe while standing or moving around—the tight framing in Wake provides no such options. Rather than enabling an active kinesthetic engagement with the dancers' bodies and the site, the camera here seems to limit the viewer's participation in what can be seen.

Although Eiko & Koma's trademark ambient soundscape and timing of the moving bodies still invite the viewer to engage with all their senses, Wake positions its audience to see things quite differently. First, the media dance is black and white, which prevents a viewing of the dance as "live." Having spent a number of days at the Naked installation, Wake does not give me the "I am there" feeling that Breath does. Immersion depends on the possibility of entering a site; the black and white media dance makes this somehow less probable. More significantly, though, the unwavering extreme close up dictates what the viewer sees, foreclosing a more open participation. This is a marked change from observing dancers in a landscape (Wallow) or experiencing a constantly shifting three-dimensional perspective around and above the dancers' eye level (Husk, Breath). Unlike in Husk, where the camera dances with the performer, transforming her fragmented body into landscape through its immersion with her, here the camera seems to be merely investigating the dancers. Only one body part is in focus at a time, and the fragments never become more than separate parts. This does afford an attention to the delicacy of the movement and an enhanced detail—wrinkled hands, the fluttering of eyes right before they open—that the audience normally would not be able to see, but the cost of this detail is the loss of possibility for the each viewer to have their own experience. Wake reveals that simple proximity of camera to body does not necessarily enable immersion. Whereas in Breath the space of the live installation was filmed in such a way that the viewer feels immersed in the site, Wake's camera is itself overimmersed in the bodies (who themselves are the site of the media dance) leaving little room for the audience to also enter.

Screen as Immersive Site: Retrospective Project

In 2009, Eiko & Koma launched their three-year Retrospective Project, through which they experimented with how a body of work can be seen and felt beyond the instance of a specific performance. The Project aimed to examine their body of work for its continued or shifting resonances for contemporary audiences through museum exhibitions of photographs, sets, and media dances; a new living installation; creation of new works inspired by dances in their repertoire; the revival of older works; and the publication of a catalog by the Walker Art Center. Eiko & Koma also revitalized existing works by collaborating with musicians with whom they had a long history. Eiko & Koma's Archive Project grew out of the Retrospective and seeks to create an innovative, artist-led archive in which a collection of digital and paper files, photographs, press, programs, sets, costumes, videos, and audio material is not just documentation of Eiko & Koma's artistic work, but is also a resource for further artistic production and imagination. In both Projects, media dances have played a central role, with spaces created for viewing Eiko & Koma's media dances exemplifying the ideas behind both Projects. Not coincidentally, the viewing spaces remain remarkably consistent with the duo's choreographic practices.

The first Retrospective Project exhibition, Time is Not Even, Space is Not Empty at Wesleyan University's Zilkha Gallery,15 marked a new phase for the pair, in which they began to work with "performance video footage as raw material, a resource from which[they] construct a new artwork."16 For example, the performance footage from the one-time site specific Event Fission (1980) was projected on a specially made massive canvas that mimicked the cracked, lumpy material that covered Eiko & Koma's bodies in the performance. Here the dance is so immersed in the screen, it is as if the dancers' skin has become the screen, which is itself a site where the viewer can experience the dancers' bodies at an enormous magnitude. Watching the documentation video on this screen, which visitors could examine up close, the moving images lack sharp edges, seeming to become multidimensional as they seep into the cracks on the canvas, and move over its textured surface.17

A few years later in the Retrospective, Eiko & Koma created an altogether different way of displaying and viewing their media works for a video installation that accompanied Naked at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York.18 For this exhibition, the videos were displayed in individual "wells."19 These square structures, made variously of wood or thick board and standing approximately two feet square and three and a half feet high, invite exhibition visitors to bend their heads and torsos over and into the well in order to watch the videos displayed at the bottom. Eiko & Koma expanded the number of wells for a trio of exhibitions: Residue at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts,20 Time is Not Even, Space is Not Empty at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago,21 and Residue at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.22 For Residue of Nakedness, a video installation at Colorado College's IDEA Space, Eiko & Koma employed for the first time a variety of sizes of wells: taller wells for performance footage, shorter and broader ones for dances for camera.23 Although the selection of videos and number of wells varied from one exhibition to another, the videos typically included not only media dances but also documentation of live performances.

The wells invite a different relationship to the work than standing and watching it on a monitor mounted to the wall or sitting in a darkened theater seeing it on a large screen. Mounted on a wall, a media dance may seem like a "moving picture," another image in a gallery. But diving head and torso into the well takes the viewer into a personal, one-to-one relationship with the screen. It also suggests that watching is a physical act. Even those who do not fully plunge into the wells may involve their bodies with the structures in other ways, for example by gripping the sides of the wells as they lean forward or tilt their heads downwards to see the screen below. In any case, the frame may focus vision, but the body watching exceeds the well by spilling over it or grasping its exterior. The word "residue" used in many of the exhibition titles after all suggests a textural sense—there is something left to touch or feel—that requires a body to experience it.

As part of the exhibitions in New York and College Park, Eiko & Koma constructed yet another kind of structure as video installation, a four-sided "Tea House" made from canvas, feathers, sweet rice, sea salt, and water.24 Although open to the ceiling, light seems to emanate from the sand-colored textured walls of the Tea House itself rather than from up above. These scorched canvas walls provide peek holes so that one could look from the outside without ever having to enter, just as one could stroll by the row of video wells, peeking over the top to see what is there, but never stopping to watch.

Exhibition visitors must walk up the low, short ramp through the door-shaped entrance at one corner of the structure and fully enter the Tea House in order to view the media dance made specifically for this installation. But unlike a movie house, where the screen is on one wall, and all viewers sit in fixed chairs facing the same direction, the Tea House places the video at the center, recessed below floor level and underneath a thin layer of water. Here the frame is not the four edges of the screen, but the four walls that enclose both the ever-shifting audience and the media dance. The viewer is left to choose how to watch the video: stand over it, sit on one of the scattered cushions near it and peer down, or sit further away and let the dance for camera be but one aspect of the site. Here the viewer does not spill over the frame as in the wells, but is completely immersed in it, as the screen is itself immersed in the viewing structure. The Tea House seems to be a material manifestation of Eiko's aforementioned desire for "breathing room" in their media dances. It invites viewers to approach, to come in and see what is there, to spend time and have their own experience. Repeated visits at different times of the day, in different moods, reward the audience with an entirely new perspective.


Eiko & Koma's media dances consistently immerse the bodies of the performers and viewers in the various sites of the work. Camera and screen are not only tools that make these body-site relationships possible, but are participants in the immersive processes. In Wallow and in the Breath live installation, for example, it is the dancers who are immersed in the site, as they are in most Eiko & Koma live performances. Moreover, in the Breath installation, the screen itself is immersed in the site. In Husk and the media dance Breath, the camera becomes immersed in the site with (and sometimes as) the performers, dancing through mobile framing, and long takes, and serving as not just the viewer's eyes, but their whole body. Finally, in the Breath installation and the Retrospective Project's video wells and Tea Houses, the viewer is physically immersed in the screen site.

Eiko & Koma's media dance methodology— the kinesthetic immersion of performers, viewers, camera, and screen—has broader implications for how we think about the screendance frame. The camera view-finder and viewing screens are all frames that would seem to determine the audience's view of the dance (especially over and against live performance), but in Eiko & Koma's work the bodies of the performers and the viewers alike exceed the frame even as they are immersed in it. Although vision may be squared off, perception extends beyond the right angles. This sense of the screen offering an invitation into a world while at the same time not limiting the viewer's experience of the world to what can be seen is Eiko & Koma's major contribution to media dance.


Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 2: The Time Image. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989.

Norman, Kyra. "In and Out of Place: Site-based Screendance." The International Journal of Screendance 1 (2010): 13-20.

Otake, Eiko. "A Dancer Behind the Lens." In Envisioning Dance on Film and Video, edited by Judy Mitoma, 82-88. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Rosenberg, Douglas. "Excavating Genres." The International Journal of Screendance 1 (2010): 63-74.

____. Screendance: Inscribing the Ephemeral Image. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Yokobosky, Matthew. "Movement as Installation: Eiko & Koma in Conversation with Matthew Yokobosky." PAJ 64 (2000): 26-35.


Eiko & Koma. Husk. Accessed March 20, 2013.

____. "Video Installation: Residue Of Nakedness." Accessed March 23, 2013.


  1. Eiko & Koma use the terms "media dance" and "dance for camera"interchangeably to describe their works created collaboratively by their live dancing bodies, a camera, and editing processes, and made to be watched on some sort of screen. I follow their lead and use these terms to describe their work. In addition to the works discussed here, Eiko & Koma's dances for camera include Tentacle (1983), Bone Dream (1985), Lament (1985), and Undertow (1988). Video-based gallery installations also include On Nakedness: Video Installation (2011) and Naked: Video Installation (2011).

  2. The notion of multiple layers of sites present in a screendance is not new. For example, Douglas Rosenberg suggests, "the screen has clearly become a well-understood site for dance. However, it is always a site that is doubled: the initial layer is the built environment or landscape in which the body (dance) is located; the secondary layer is the media by which the performance is inscribed, bonded into one screenic image." See "Excavating Genres," The International Journal of Screendance 1 (2010): 64. Kyra Norman takes this idea one step further to consider the viewer, writing: "it is through a sincere attention to place in the moment of recording that the substance of the work arises; at the same time, this material is being shaped by an awareness of the space of the screen and a projection into the future, toward the edit, that screen space, and the future viewer." See "In and Out of Place: Site-based Screendance," The International Journal of Screendance 1 (2010): 14.

  3. Eiko Otake, "A Dancer Behind the Lens," in Envisioning Dance on Film and Video, ed. Judy Mitoma (New York: Routledge, 2002), 84.

  4. Ibid., 84.

  5. The words "This work was conceived with no sound track" are splashed across a black screen before Eiko & Koma ever appear.

  6. In a 2006 movement course at UCLA, Koma taught about eye-angle through the poetry of Masaoka Shiki and photographer Eugene Smith. Shiki, a noted haiku poet (1867-1902) spent a number of years bedridden with illness and many of his haikus deal with things he could see from bed through his window in his bedroom. His eye-angle influenced his art. In Smith's famous photograph, Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath, Tomoko is very close to her mother. Her eye-angle is perhaps just a foot away. Koma used these works to introduce the idea of dancing and watching from a different angle.

  7. "Husk," Eiko & Koma, accessed March 20, 2013,

  8. Otake, "Behind the Lens," 83.

  9. In this sense, Eiko & Koma's use of video in this installation reflects Deleuze's proposition that the postwar "cinematographic image itself 'makes' movement." Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time Image (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1989), 156.

  10. Matthew Yokobosky, "Movement as Installation: Eiko & Koma in Conversation with Matthew Yokobosky," PAJ 64 (2000): 35.

  11. Eiko's version is the one commonly in circulation.

  12. Otake, "Behind the Lens," 87.

  13. Ibid., 83.

  14. Eiko & Koma previously collaborated with Byrne on Lament (1985) and Undertow (1988).

  15. November 19, 2009-January 7, 2010

  16. "Video Installation: Residue Of Nakedness," Eiko & Koma, accessed March 23, 2013,

  17. Scholars distinguish between dance documentation and screendance (see Rosenberg's Screendance: Inscribing the Ephemeral Image (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), especially Chapter 1 "Archives and Architecture"), and justifiably so. Nonetheless, Eiko & Koma's experiments with new methods of screening documentation of their live works demonstrate the unexplored potential of work previously considered merely archival.

  18. March 29-April 9, 2011.

  19. Eiko & Koma sometimes refer to the wells as "sculptural frames."

  20. July 19-October 30, 2011.

  21. Jun 24-Nov 13, 2011. Even though this exhibition, curated by Peter Taub, shares a title with the 2009 Zilkha Gallery one curated by Nina Felshin with the artists, the content and design were significantly different.

  22. September 13, 2011-May 24, 2012, University of Maryland at College Park. This exhibition was similar in content to the one at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

  23. November 27-December 18, 2012. This exhibition explicitly linked nakedness to video. All of the videos shown, media dances and performance footage alike, were pieces performed naked, which for Eiko & Koma represents a state of vulnerability and openness. In this context, the immersive environment of the viewing wells takes on an added layer of emotional and physical intimacy and vulnerability for the viewers. The feeling that the wells isolate an individual viewer from others in the gallery at the same time as it connects her more closely with the media dance may be more acute here.

  24. The exhibition in Chicago included a constructed space used for both video projection and live performance that was similar to the Tea House, but included some significant differences. This larger space had multiple canvas walls, but was not enclosed on all four sides. Here the video was projected on the back wall whenever Eiko & Koma were not performing in the space, inviting the question: are they or aren't they live? This installation was certainly an immersive space to watch the video, but here, unlike in the Tea Houses, the video replaces Eiko & Koma's bodies in the space, rather than the media dance itself being the site.


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Copyright (c) 2014 Rosemary Candelario

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