Two grizzled Romanian subcontractors sand 15,000 square feet of wood floor in Pilsen’s Lacuna Artist Lofts, where Jonathan Meyer’s Whence, the conclusion of a yearlong trilogy of solos, premieres on Friday 9. Sawdust clouds my view across the vast room, part of what once was the world’s largest macaroni factory.
Meyer, 39, opens a blue, three-ring binder and shows me a detailed plan of the room we’re in, drawn to scale, with a dotted line that marks the route his audience follows as he dances Whence’s four main episodes. The locations of stages and lights for the performance are marked among an array of 43 squares, which represent the building’s wooden columns spaced 15 feet apart.
Christopher Preissing, 50, composer for the “Home” trilogy and for Meyer’s 2009 work The Waking Room, is with us, pointing out where six steel sheets will hang and emit noise; they’re based on a pair he built for “It All Comes Back,” Chicago Robotic Theater’s summer exhibition in [node:14782127 link=Crown Hall;] at the Illinois Institute of Technology. The three of us shout to hear each other over the din.
That the Lacuna lofts are still under construction affords Meyer and Preissing free rein for the installation. It’s also appropriate to the themes of their “Home” series. At the 2010 [node:14911351 link=Other Dance Festival;], where it began, and during Y, presented in March at [node:84056 link=Overdier Hall;] in Rogers Park, Meyer showed dances that spoke to the self as a work-in-progress. Beginnings of movements were tested and discarded by the dozen; he seemed to proceed only if and when a longer path was clear.
Choreography for Whence is all new, although “there’s a retrospective element to it,” Meyer yells over the wailing industrial sanders. He looks at previous choices “and I grapple with and decipher the crap that comes up. I’m interested in my emotional resistance to this process.… I’ve deliberately chosen things that exacerbate my discomfort, like spoken text,” he explains, referencing his first “Home” solo’s lengthy, self-referential monologue. “Right up until the last minute, I hated that piece.”
A week later, I visit Overdier to watch a few of Meyer’s movement sketches. Coincidentally, someone in the alley outside of the studio’s open windows is hammering, dropping tools and generally making a racket.
The second section of Whence consists of six short, task-based events. For each, audience members stand progressively closer to Meyer.
In the first, Meyer mimes stripping naked, exaggerating each action as if through the visual equivalent of a megaphone. In performance, he’ll go full-monty. Nudity is “definitely another place of discomfort that I’ve chosen,” he says, although he’s performed naked before. The first time, he was 19 and just beginning his dance study at Oberlin College. “I did a 75-minute, nude solo in a basement hallway that was all brick, low-ceilinged, dank, disused. An intensely angst-ridden, melodramatic solo. Very first-year-of-dance-school.” I point out that Whence is in fact, then, an excavation of his decisions going back further than just last fall’s [node:89931 link=Other Dance Festival;].
“Yeah. I don’t want to be overly dismissive of what was there. Part of what [Whence] is, I think, is doing all of these same things again, just without such heavy-handed treatment.”
Two weekends of Whence open on Friday 9 at the Lacuna Artist Lofts.