Responding to Eiko’s A Body in a Cemetery

I am in Green-Wood Cemetery, on my birthday, beside my parents. We are planted on a grassy slope among stone grave markers, eyes trained on Eiko–my mentor, employer, former professor, who I haven’t seen in six months. I haven’t seen her because of the pandemic, because so many people are dying. It feels right we meet again here, among monuments to the dead. 

She enters a verdant clearing created by a ring of tombstones, walking dutifully, slowly. The circle was there long before Eiko decided to perform there, of course, but it feels as if the dead are holding a seance for her, rounding themselves up to watch the one living being. Or maybe she is the medium, the one who can transcend the boundary. 

She carries “red,” what I know to be her late mother’s scarlet kimono that’s travelled with her to irradiated Fukushima, to Chile, to Wall Street. She brings so much life and death along with her.

Her carrying is repeated over and over. Carry red. Carry water. Carry dirt. But it is not greedy. She lays down red, pours water, spits out dirt. She is in exchange with her ring of dead collaborators, spreading the stuff of living and dying around. Dirt smeared on her white dress, water sinking into her skin and drenching slabs of stone. 

Despite the striking scene, I am prone to distraction. It is my birthday, and so I have listened to Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” several times that day, and it is circulating in my head, clashing with Eiko’s somber acts. My vision keeps jumping from her lean frame to the metallic teal balloon and yellow pinwheel staked purposefully beside two tombstones–they spin and bounce with the shifts of the wind, shrieking for attention, much like the persistently upbeat tune in my mind. And I can’t help but feel a distinct excitement in watching “live” performance for the first time in six months, acutely aware of all the breathing beings around me. 

I recall a voicemail from a friend I listened to earlier that morning–she had recorded minutes of sweet musings for me, knowing we might not have time to talk on the phone. She is in upstate New York, looking around her:

Today, here, it’s pre-rain, so the sky is not blue or white but somehow both. The trees are orange and yellow and green. They are just in that in-between point. I think it’s so perfect for you and your beauty of in-between-ness. I hope you appreciate your in-between-ness, even though it causes you stress, or makes you feel unsure or groundless. These trees are in between themselves. The sky is in between itself. It’s perfect.” 

I believe my friend that I am full of in-betweenness, a Libra, so of course. And I know there is much more foggy in-between-ness to be found right in front of me. I try to let my distraction, my selfish birthday egotism, bleed into my watching of Eiko. She is somehow getting in between my life-focused, groundless mood and the rooted heavy stones of the passed. I let her. 

Eiko has a way of finding the blurry spaces between death and life, smudging the binary that we use to keep the unknown at a distance. I have already seen her practice dying alongside young dancers, and dancing with dead friends–their poems, their overcoats. Here she spreads soil and sinks bare feet into the lawn fed by remains and wraps obelisks in cloths and wetness. With these ritual acts of service Eiko reminds me of the constant in-between-ness beyond myself.

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