The first time we met was at a workshop at Links Hall about Liz Lerman’s critical feedback method while Jonathan was scouting out Chicago as a possible place to move himself and his dance company from Taos, New Mexico.We kept bumping into each other over and over again at events and rehearsals; it was clear that we were connecting with the same interests in the dance community. In 2007, we began hanging out together and pretty soon were inseparable and started collaborating around the same time. We even have a brief phrase of partnering material we call “L’Originale” that marks the actual commencement of our collaboration. We generated it almost accidentally one time when we were just hanging out in the studio at the Cultural Center after one of Julia’s DanceBridge rehearsals with different group of dancers. The movement came out with excitement and ease. We’ve been partners—in and out of the studio—ever since.
Initially in our collaboration we focused on two things. First was how we worked together, establishing a baseline of communication and process. The second was on generating material, creating a palette in common. Our first shows reflected this bare-bones approach: we showed Project #1 at the Prop Theater, “Project #2” at the Around the Coyote Gallery, “Project #3” at Poonies Cabaret, “Project #4” at Links Hall, and “Project” #5 at the Pritzker Pavilion.
We fell into a natural rhythm of tossing creative lead back and forth: Julia would try out a lift, then Jonathan would suggest where to take the momentum from the landing, then Julia would change where the arms were in the lift—that sort of thing. As this very balanced kind of process felt solidly established, we expanded the options of how we’d work together—sometimes one or the other of us would say, You direct today, I’ll just be a dancer. Or one would generate some rough-draft material and say, You craft this now.
We gravitated towards partnering-intensive material, very focused on momentum flow, highly kinetic. We called it the “kinetic joyride,” which we’ve kept as an apt description for the core of our material. It was very contact improv-influenced in its way of working, though later we began to bring in a lot of other influences, including Indonesian forms and capoeira, and then undertook an intensive study of social dance duet forms, especially swing and tango. We were interested in these primarily for how the somatic communication happens differently in each of these forms, more so than for the specific vocabulary each offers. For example, tango offers a fairly firm “frame” through the torso, so one person’s movement responds very quickly through the other person’s body, versus contact improv, where you’re generally holding the body much looser.
We also undertook a study, early on, of what we felt to be our strengths and weaknesses and habits as movers and choreographers, with the understanding that what Jonathan may feel to be dull or repetitive in his own movement, might be exciting for Julia, and vice versa. For example Jonathan’s not at all fond of arching, and not particularly good at it, where Julia would maybe feel irritated at times by how often she’d fall back on arching in improv. By teaching each other our styles and habits, we gave each other new options, filled in some gaps in our improvisational palettes, and relearned habitual responses as exciting or challenging choices.
After our year of “Projects” we began to open up our work to exploring thematic and theatrical elements. For 2010’s “Tacit” we were very interested in visual choices in “Last Year in Marienbad”, and studied aspects of the 19th century magic show—not that we wanted to do stage magic and dance, but to work with the same notions of how authoritative presentation can alter the audience’s perception, or how distraction can effect transformation, or the idea of parallax: how the same thing looks radically different from a different vantage point. We mounted a very site-specific piece at the beautiful Overdier Hall of the United Church of Rogers Park, and had the audience on rolling platforms, moving them to different places throughout the show, and used unique aspects of the space, for example, a massive bank of leaded-glass double doors we rigged with pulleys and string, and had the audience watching a ghostly opening and closing of doors in the fading light, with no apparent agent for the movement.
We’ve come to identify clear priorities that we share as artists. Foremost is the conviction that we do this for the sake of growth—that we’re constantly striving to question, critique, and develop, and not get caught in imagining that we’ve arrived somewhere. We have a phrase: the “butterfly idea." Jonathan was trying to come up with image ideas for marketing for his CDF piece, “The Waking Room” and was imagining a face covered in butterflies (which Julia found rather cheesy). Rather than discard the idea as trite, or simply accept it at face value—because there must be something to it, for it to occur to him—Julia helped him mine the idea more deeply, to get to what was underneath it, and it yielded Dan Merlo’s fabulous images with the peeling paint from the Rosenwald photo shoot. So we’re constantly trying to find this balance of neither just accepting nor discarding, but always digging deeper.
We’re also very committed to presenting work that raises questions, challenges as well as rewards the audience, and embraces ambiguity. However great passive entertainment may be, it’s not what we want to present as artists. We want to actively engage the audience. To this end, we look at the full spectrum of the theatrical experience, and consider that the program design is as much a part of the audience’s experience as the choreography or dancing. We’re interested in how the audience views work, and how the work directs such viewing, and how this can shift throughout a piece–whether it’s through moving them physically to another place in the space, or playing with timing–getting them into a butoh-esque mode, drawing in their attention to minutiae, then exploding into rapid big movement: it’s not just a question of having variety, but also of changing the quality of attention that’s asked of the audience. We were asked once in a grant application to describe our ideal audience, and took it as an opportunity for defining our ideals as artists, rather than a dry demographic exercise, and came up with this statement:
Our desired audience are those wanting to watch avant-garde dance work, who desire being challenged as they are engaged, who appreciate an immersive and untraditional theater experience, who seek a strong emotional response and are excited by ambiguity and questions raised, and who find enjoyment in somatic response to new movement language rather than passive entertainment, expected movement vocabulary, or easily deciphered narrative arcs.
Julia Rae Antonick is a dancer and choreographer whose movement and choreography reflect a digestion of modern/contemporary dance, contact improvisation, ballet, yoga, Klein/Mahler technique and Indonesian dance with an emphasis on kinetics and fillagree. She has been immersed in an ongoing duet collaboration with her partner Jonathan Meyer since 2007 that focuses on the research and investigation of duet based movement forms and the performative crafting of those queries. Julia graduated from the Chicago Academy for the Arts with the Dance Department's Award of Excellence and received her BFA in dance from CalArts. She has received choreographic residencies at Links Hall (LinkUp), the Chicago Cultural Center (DanceBridge), the Ragdale Foundation, Djerrassi Resident Artist Program and was chosen for Shirley Mordine's Emerging Artist Mentoring Program. She has received grants from the Illinois Arts Council, Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, CSDP, CAAP and was awarded the Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist Grant for 2009/2010. For more information visit: juliaraeantonick.com
Jonathan Meyer began dancing at Oberlin College and graduated from UNC Greensboro. He was certified as a Somatic Movement Educator from the School For Body-Mind Centering in 2008. His dancing and choreography reflect his diverse studies in modern and post-modern techniques, gymnastics and capoeira, taiji and aikido, ballet, butoh, and contact improvisation. He has danced with The High Risk Group, The Seldoms, Asimina Chremos, and others, and has an on-going collaboration with his partner Julia Rae Antonick. In July 2011, their work was selected for presentation on stage at the MCA as part of the Dance/USA conference. Meyer has been a LinkUp Artist, a CDF Lab Artist, a DanceBridge Artist, a mentee with Shirley Mordine, an Artist In Residence at the Ragdale Foundation and the Djerassi Foundation, and has received grants from the Driehaus Foundation, CAAP, and the Illinois Arts Council. With long-standing fascinations with floor work, release work, and partnering techniques, Meyer’s choreography takes place largely in the intersection between physics and human relationships. Meyer has served as Artistic Director of Khecari since founding it in 2002.