Eiko Otake – A Body in Places
Vizcaya Museum & Gardens
March 30, 2016
Reviewed by Steve Sucato
A bolt of red fabric hung down from a second floor half-wall that surrounded Miami’s Vizcaya Museum & Gardens’ Enclosed Courtyard. Behind it dancer/choreographer Eiko Otake bit off a mouthful of petals from white chrysanthemum and spit them out to cascade down to where a gathering of spectators stood watching her. Otake then darted along the second floor hallway crying out “Let me in” and “Please open.”
This bizarre behavior, and what was to follow, helped define a mischievous and melancholy character Otake cultivated in the latest chapter of her site-specific solo project, A Body in Places.
Begun in 2014, Otake has performed the partially improvised A Body in Places at numerous sites in Japan, Hong Kong and the United States; perhaps none grander than Vizcaya, the former winter home of International Harvester founder James Deering.
For Otake, one half of Butoh’s most famous duo of Eiko & Koma, the rapid pace of this work was a marked departure from the usual glacial-pace she and husband Koma perform movement at.
In a white and black multi-layered traditional-looking Japanese costume, Otake then descended a flight of stairs and weaved her way through the 100 plus onlookers, briefly stopping to interact with a few before exited out Vizcaya’s manor house’s Enclosed Loggia onto the East Terrace that overlooked Biscayne Bay where the remainder of the performance played out.
Like a woman out of place and time, Otake’s character constantly searched for solace from those around her and from her surroundings.
Moving from one area of Vizcaya’s grounds to another, the scene resembled a golf gallery following her like some petite Tiger Woods. Finding a puddle of water, Otake stood in it staring off into the distance as the swell of followers surrounded her.
There was a quiet beauty to Otake’s movements, despite a growing sense that her character, who became more and more desperate, might be contemplating a watery end by throwing herself into the Bay.
Juxtaposed in this scene of desperation and ceremony was the playful antics of 3-year-old Benjamin. The boy, in a shark t-shirt and eating an apple, was fixated on Otake approaching her on several occasions to marvel at what she was doing like some novel toy come to life.
The piece continued with Otake moving about the Terrace toward Vizcaya’s dock area, drinking water from a bowl and shedding layers of her costume only to pick them up from the ground her teeth.
After mournfully lying prone on the ground for a spell and then tossing handfuls of chrysanthemums into the bay, the work concluded with Otake escaping the crowd down a flight of stairs to the water’s edge, not to jump in, but to look to the heavens before taking a bow.
Much could be read into Otake’s character and the intent of the solo work. Whatever the interpretation, the piece was in many ways secondary to Otake as performer. She was masterful in her expressions, timing and ability to read the audience; teasing us along with just enough to peak our curiosity as to what was next. A legendary performer in a wonderfully picturesque setting, what more could a dance lover ask for.
A Body in Places Miami was presented by Tigertail Productions in conjuction with the Consulate General of Japan.
Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.