Juri Onuki and I met in 2009 while auditioning for Marina Abramovic’s retrospective The Artist is Present (2010) at MoMA.
A few dancers and I were there to meet with Abramovic to be photographed and greet one another, and Juri and I immediately hit it off. We have collaborated on a few pieces together in the past years, and each time I visit New York City we catch up on life and art making. I met up with her while I was in NYC this past July to have some lunch together and talk about a few things.
Juri always has something exciting in her updates, meeting this artist or that musician in the city, seeing performances that are out of this world; she often exclaims, “I love this city. I can’t imagine being anywhere else, although gosh…it’s really hard here.”
Originally from Ibaraki, Japan, Onuki studied at George Mason University and the Merce Cunningham Studio. Currently based in Brooklyn, she has performed and worked with numerous conceptual artists, choreographers, and dance and art institutions. In this conversation, I speak with Juri about her making process as a dancer, an artist, and a choreographer.
Gyun Hur: Juri, thank you for stopping by [my Artadia installation] in Dumbo. You and I have been in touch for awhile, and I am always encouraged by the fact that we both have been trying our ways to continue working as artists. The ways that you have been carving your creative pursuit has been rather unconventional as a dancer. You have been involved in projects with Marina Abramovic, William Pope.L, and many other artists. Could you tell me more about your projects, gigs, and self-initiated choreography projects?
Juri Onuki: Thank you for having me at your installation site, Gyun. It’s quite lovely, and it’s always so nice to see your work that contains such delicate and sensitive beauty. Yes, I am very aware of that my creative pursuit and experiences are so unique compared to other dancers. First of all, I like art. I go to museums, music shows, dance shows, restaurants etc. Especially living in New York City, there are [so many spaces] filled with people’s creative ideas. The stuff I like and am inspired from are coming from all different media. Dance just happens to be my outlet to express myself.
Speaking of projects, there are two choreographers (RoseAnn Spradlin and Rebecca Warner) that I am working with now as a dancer. In this specific type of situation, you learn movements that the choreographer wants. Working with Abramovic and Pope.L was also along these same lines. I’m honored to be in works by these amazing artists. I also love collaborating with artists from other media, my most recent collaboration was withJon Santos who is a designer and DJ. We did an audience participation-based performance piece calledSocial Mirroring which focuses on the first two minutes of a social encounter, but we extended that moment into an hour! [Laughs.] I love seeing the birth of news ideas when I’m collaborating with different artists. It’s always surprising and satisfying. For my own choreography, I’m trying to make a dance or two a year. I produced/curated my own show last year, which [incorporates] both dance and video art. I presented my work, Panorama, in that show too, and it turned out to be very unique show. It was very hard work, but I wanna do it again. Also, I am at the very beginning stage of making a new piece which I am presenting in a private event.
GH: Your work navigates between the language of dance and movements, the conceptual understanding of body as medium, which then translates into visual/conceptual art. I remember your very first choreography piece at Get This! Gallery, and it was powerful [because] I saw a young dancer who was becoming…more than a dancer. You were an artist, a choreographer who sensitively expressed this idea of contraints, space, and body through this piece. What are some of choreographic interests of yours? How have you been growing as a dancer, a thinker, an artist?
JO: You just explained me so well! I’m glad you liked the piece that I did at Get This! Looking back, it all started from there. I am a very visual person, and I have specific visuals that I want the audience to see. Recreating those images from body and space is always a challenge. Also, the texture and mood of the dance has to be believable, so I often relate my inspiration toactual personal experiences or fantasies about certain things. Real feelings! My current choreographic interest is to make a group piece. I’ve only presented solo works, so I would love to have more bodies.
I hope I’ve grown as a person. Each experience in my past gave me so much and I’ve learned a lot. I’m still learning, but I think in some ways I’m smarter and more efficient now; I’m able to think wider.
GH: You have been in Atlanta a few times with my projects. What are some of your impressions of the city Atlanta—I know you love New York City. How is it also living in NYC? I thought so much of you when I was watching Frances Ha. Do you imagine being in NYC for most of your life? And, to this thought, what is that idea of ‘studio space’ for you as a dancer? Perhaps the entire city? Do you feel a need of private space at times for your body and thoughts to evolve?
JO: I like Atlanta a lot. I went to college in Virginia, so the South grew on me. I love southern food, and Atlanta can provide me with amazing grits! I felt like [downtown Atlanta] is clean but has some emptiness, which I find very interesting. I think it’s because I am so used to seeing waves of people in NYC. I always like seeing the trains and red bricks [in Atlanta] too. There are many beautiful, abundant spaces that I would love to see some art happening [within]!
Living in New York City can be tiring, and if I have a chance to get away, I do. Certainly it took me a while to get used to the pacing of the city. Like you saw in Frances Ha. It shows real pain but also the beauty of living here. I’ve realized that the reason why I still live here is for the people. I would like to be involved with this creative community as long as I can. But who knows if I am going to be here rest of my life? In a way, I am flexible to be anywhere anytime.
Unlike visual artists, most choreographers here rent space to rehearse. It costs money. So space grants are really big deal. I really do need my own space and to be in a studio to things to start, but I wonder if I have a studio available to me all the time, how much [more] productive I really can be. For now, I’m paying for space for a certain amount of hours [when I need it], and that gives me both more of a sense of commitment and a better idea of time and deadlines. It works.