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Japanese artist working on A-bomb, nuclear disaster theme for dance in NY amid pandemic

Artist Eiko Otake is seen in this photo taken in the city of Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Aug. 28, 2020. (Mainichi/Miki Myochin)

TOKYO -- "I want to dance in silence with sympathy for the dead, while thinking about the mistakes humans have made and the chaotic ways we live our lives," said artist Eiko Otake who has been working on the theme of atomic bombings, the Fukushima nuclear disaster and now on the coronavirus pandemic.

    The 68-year-old bases her activities in New York, where she will hold the dance event. Her performance will take place at Green-Wood Cemetery, a large site that contains over 560,000 graves, on Sept. 26 and 27 (local time). "I asked myself what I could do during the coronavirus crisis," Otake explained as her reason behind deciding to resume her stage performances.

    Born in Japan, Otake advanced to Chuo University from a Tokyo metropolitan high school, but dropped out after she became tired of the student movement. She studied under late butoh dancer Kazuo Ono, and in 1976 traveled to New York, where many gathered to perform dance as art.

    Along with her 71-year-old partner Koma, whose real name is Takashi Otake, she performed one work after another. She turned her attention to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in southwestern Japan after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, and entered a graduate program at New York University at the age of 50.

    Otake deepened her friendship with late novelist Kyoko Hayashi, who was exposed to radiation in Nagasaki. Otake now teaches a class on the issue of violence and movement of the body at Wesleyan University and has also continued to hold seminars at the University of Tokyo.

    After the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, Otake visited Fukushima Prefecture in northeastern Japan with an American historian who is also a photographer, and sent out messages about the reality of the disaster site through her works. She explained, "By me going to Fukushima, it closes the distance between the audience and Fukushima."

    Otake temporarily returned to Japan in the summer as the number of coronavirus cases in New York surged. She edited photos, videos and other materials taken in Fukushima, and released a video piece named "From the Great East Japan Earthquake to the coronavirus crisis."

    Otake says "oppression of the vulnerable is increasing throughout the world," and believes that art holds power to fight against this situation. She is planning to co-publish a collection of photographs named "Fukushima ni iku" ("Going to Fukushima") in the spring of 2021.

    (Japanese original by Miki Myochin, Business Development Headquarters)

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