Midday the lobby of the Eden Roc Resort & Spa on Miami Beach is a swirling current of baggage, people, and noise. The flotsam and jetsam of shrieking and darting children, cleaning ladies, and clanging plates wash around Los Angeles-based site-specific choreographer Heidi Duckler as she energetically discusses her Collage Dance Theatre's upcoming performance of UnderEden, which snakes an intimate trail through the environs of this 350-room hotel, Morris Lapidus's architectural showpiece circa 1956. "The movement vocabulary comes from the space and the objects that live in it, so, you know, we make love to the vacuum cleaners," Duckler says cryptically. "We use a bed, and we use what's here: the water. The cabana spaces are very isolated; they're perfect for the whole scene about exile. The spaces really speak."
Only a handful of American artists create works exclusively in challenging and unexpected locations, literally moving outside the box of dance. Duckler's limitless playground of invention over the past sixteen years has included a river, a prison, a laundromat, and a defunct subway terminal, all in her home state, until now. "I was thinking about the senior population and how [Miami] was such a retirement destination and how those dynamics were really changing," explains Duckler, who was about four years old when the Eden Roc made its debut. "Originally I had thought that we might do it in a retirement home."
The sense of ebb and flow Duckler hoped to explore ironically coincided with the transformation of the hotel's interior décor from its garish pastel hues to its original muted glory. "I just loved this place," she says, gesturing around the Eden Roc's circular lobby, now outfitted in subdued mustard and amethyst tones, plush fabrics, and dark wood. "The whipped cream and the turquoise, you know, and the kitschyness of it.... What happened was they started this process of renovation. I thought, What should I do? I could flee, and I thought, No, this is that flux that I'm after."
As the building's facelift evolved, so did UnderEden, a mammoth project that Duckler put on the finishing touches during a recent 21-day stay in the hotel that included up to eight-hour-per-day rehearsals and plenty of black-and-blue marks from the tile, windows, and cement the dancers encounter. Much like the inner workings of the place that inspired it, the piece is an epic collaboration and intricate meshing of roles that encompassed the hotel itself, Collage Dance Theatre, a number of artists in all disciplines from both Los Angeles and Miami (including poet Adrian Castro, actor Mike Maria, choreographer and dancer Joanne Barrett), a small group of Miami Beach seniors, and of course, the Eden Roc's myriad inhabitants and employees.
The story of a magician who has lost his faith in his art allows UnderEden to do what its title suggests: dig beneath our visions of the perfect place, the foundations, real and imagined, on which we build our paradises. "The hotel is really about illusion," notes Duckler. "It mediates the inner and outside world. The city, reality is still there, even though we pretend it's not.... There's a reality factor built into [UnderEden] too; for example when you buy your ticket, you buy it at the front desk, so it's like right away you're participating, you're checking in."