photo credit: William Johnston
Time is not even. Welcome to the second letter in a series I am writing about my recent conversations with Eiko Otake whose last of four performances is tomorrow night, Friday, October 24 from 9pm to midnight at Amtrak’s 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. It will be a haunting time to observe a rare and indelible performance. My time with Eiko these past few months have been an extended, ecstatic meditation on what I call the “choreography of presence”- an alternative strand in post-modern dance to the “movement for movement sake’s” path blazed by Merce Cunningham’s work. Late one night a couple of weeks ago I found myself dizzy with joy as I sat in an empty studio that seemed to float above a glowing Broad Street. I was with Eiko who is teaching at University of the Arts whose studio we were in, and Ishmael Houston Jones who was in town for the week teaching at the Headlong Performance Institute. The conversation was about presence and gaze and Eiko’s next Friday performance at 30th street station. I’m still digesting what happened that night and I will write more about it next time. For now I will tell you that there was a moment while Eiko was talking about the act of seeing in performance when her foot started moving as if totally separate from the rest of her: a small rodent circling round and round in a hole, a pool of quicksand, a hand reaching out of the earth. Like I said, I’m still digesting! Earlier I wrote about Eiko Otake and the politics of hesitation.
For now, time is not even. In Eiko’s work the feeling of the unevenness of time is intimately connected to a historical sense of failure. Her out-of-place body haunting the sites in which she dances implicitly says that failure is happening, has already happened, or will happen. She means to contradict a pervasive, progressive assumption about how history operates. Her companion piece to A Body in a Station is A Body in Fukushima in which she dances in the evacuated, radioactive railway stations and landscapes of Fukushima. Her body in that context points out the human, preventable failures that are the result of hubris, power, and greed- qualities in human society that have not progressed, with devastating repercussions in the shadow of the atomic age. “Anger is, and remorse is, a drive” she says. Her performances in the grandeur of Amtrak’s 30th Street Station are just as much about failure as when her body is dancing among the ruins in Japan.
I had a remarkable insight into this when I was visiting Grounds for Sculpture in Trenton, NJ last weekend. I was looking at the generally cheerful, life-like statues of Seward Johnson. In particular, I was looking at the statue that he is famous for– a bronze statue of a business man sitting on a bench outside the Merrill Lynch offices in the Financial District of New York City. The statue called “Double Check” depicts a man sitting with his briefcase open on his lap while he “double checks” his notes before an important meeting. Here is what it looked like when it was installed in 1982:
And below is what the sculpture looked like the day after the twin towers came down in 2001: