Just Dance with Juri Onuki

Juri Onuki is a choreographer and movement consultant based in NYC. She’s a frequent co-creator with Dev Hynes (aka: Blood Orange) and the two of them together have created some serious, electrifying magic. If you aren’t familiar, take a second to watch Better Than Me, Dev’s most recent flick which Juri choreographed. I haven’t been able to pull away from this one and am probably responsible for at least a hundred views by now. Every time I watch it leaves me newly moved, but that’s not unusual for something that Juri’s left her mark on.  Thumb through anything on her resume (Chairlift, Zola Jesus, Porches, Lena Fayre) and it’s guaranteed to leave something behind within you.

We had the great luxury of meeting with Juri in New York and were able to dive into a bit of her history and process.

How did you get into dance? Why do you like it?

Juri: My mother took me to ballet lessons when I was five years old and I have been dancing ever since… although it took me a while to realize that ballet was meant for more than just an after-school activity. I really liked the joy of being on stage. It was so rewarding after all the hard work we put in.

What brought you to NYC?

Juri: I’m originally from Ibaraki, Japan, but have been living in NYC for 11 years now. I went to George Mason University in Virginia and became a dance major unexpectedly. By the time I graduated, I wanted to try out the real dance scene in New York, but only for a year. Somehow, I’m still here. New York is my home now.

How do movements associate with emotions?

Juri: I don’t necessary use emotion as a motif in my dance movements. I’m more into exploring ideas through pure quality and the structure of movement. Emotions are later added conceptually.

How did you and Dev come to collaborate? Your work together feels so symbiotic.

Juri: Thank you so much. Dev and I have been working together for a few years now, and I feel like we know how we work. I love working with him, and sharing the same vibe in a rehearsal can bring something great! He is quite a fine mover with a unique quality. When I work with him, I put as much of Dev’s quality and movement in my [dance] vocabulary as possible.

What is your process for creating choreography?

Juri: It depends on whether I’m working on my own work or making a dance for/with different artists. For my own, I’ll start with a few movements, then build. I tend to work in silence, thinking about sound very late in the stage after most of my choreography is done. I like to have some structure in a piece– it’s always in there. For music videos and live set choreography, there is already structure through music. In this case, I listen to each song many times, going through the lyrics to get the core part of the music. I like to link keywords in the song to movements.

Do you think everyone has a little bit of dance inside them?

Juri: Of course. In my opinion, everyone is a dancer… it’s just whether you access the inner child or not. Letting yourself go is challenging for some people. If you have a will for dance, it will come to you. Or someone like me will come and help you, because dance is for everyone.

Do you have any goals or visions you would like to accomplish in your lifetime?  

Juri: Ah, so many! I would like to collaborate with many talented artists. I also want to show my works in theaters. I would love to choreograph some ballet pieces and opera productions. Dance has so many possibilities, but modern/contemporary communities don’t have the financial success other visual art mediums do. Overall, I want to bring new audience to the community.

Do you feel valuable?

Juri: Hmm, I think I do. Otherwise, I couldn’t keep making dances. I have to trust myself and my intuition.

What is the most important thing to you?

Juri: Body. I am very lucky that I have a healthy body to do all the physical work. But in order to sustain that I need food, water, love and support from family and friends… the list goes on.

What makes you feel comfortable?

Juri: Taking a bath.

Do you believe in god?  Does this have any impact on your work?

Juri: This is a very deep question. I believe in the higher power, but the word “god” is too singular. People can believe in “god,” but depending on where you are from in the world, it can be very different. I think “god” is one big power with different faces that can teach you something valuable depending upon where you are at in your life. If there is any impact in my work, it is a discipline to practice. If you want to dance, you have to practice.

Why are we here?

Juri: To take the last breath. I’ll find out when I am no longer in this world.

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