Learning to linger: on memory & migration in Eiko Otake’s movement art

Paper given at the Contemporary Japanese Theatre Workshop,  Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien, in Tokyo, July 27, 2019.

This paper is part of a larger research project, co-conducted with Mika Eglinton, called “Japanese Women on the Move: Migration, Memory and Gender in Contemporary Performance.” The project draws on in-depth interviews with internationally renowned practitioners from Japan to examine the ways in which women artists negotiate the social, political and psychological changes that occur in the shift from “natal” to “trans-natal” lands through their performance practices. 

In this paper, I focus on three aspects of migration that figure in the work of New York based movement artist, Eiko Otake. This includes, memories of Geisha and playing with the trope of exotic femininity; the idea of the journey as choreography; and the idea of a body that “lingers” in performance. I piece together segments from a recent interview with Eiko, as well as images and writings from her personal production archive, and texts by dance and performance studies scholars, in order to ask: what insight into the transformative process of migration does Eiko’s performance work provide?  

Eiko is an award-winning dancer and choreographer whose passion for dance began at the height of the Tokyo student uprisings in 1968. She first entered the U.S. in 1976 with a dance production called “White Dance,” created with her long-term collaborator, Koma. Since 2014, Eiko has embarked on a period of solo work exploring the relationship between body and place. The project has taken her to cities around the world, including to Fukushima in the wake of the March 11, 2011 earthquake.

Cover photo: Eiko Otake performing “Bodies with Don Christian Jones” outside Columbia University’s Lenfest Center for the Arts, March 29 2019.

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