The Retreat is one experimental dance performance that wants to put you to sleep | Dance | Chicago Reader

The Retreat is one experimental dance performance that wants to put you to sleep 

Khecari’s latest event, four years in the making, is designed to make viewers think they’re on a wilderness retreat.

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Christian DeKnock

The creators of Khecari's weeklong dance event, The Retreat , encourage audience members to fall asleep. Or rather Khecari's artistic directors, Jonathan Meyer and Julia Rae Antonick, who have been developing the project since 2014, fuse improvisation and highly structured choreography into an amorphous performance designed to put viewers in a meditative headspace.

Meyer and Antonick want to evoke the feeling of being in the wilderness, using fabric and light to transform Pilsen's Glass Factory into a living environment. "There's things happening sometimes, but it's always existing," says Antonick. "Your attention can go away, go inward, and then something will happen that stimulates your brain. There's a lot of ways of interacting with the world."

Those interactions include optional movement, drawing, and writing workshops. Audience members are asked to complete an application when they book their tickets so the company can individualize their experiences. Stays range from two hours to the entire week, but instant immersion is the goal. "You can step out into the wilderness for five minutes, and it's not a different feel than what you get in a day or two," says Meyer. "You experience more, but the feel is clear from the beginning."

The scope of The Retreat introduces a slew of logistical challenges. "Who's cleaning every day so the space feels good?" asks Meyer. "How's laundry getting done, because you can't perform in sweaty, nasty clothing? They're mundane issues, but incredibly important to how everyone is feeling." Comfort for the audience and performers is a primary concern in creating a relaxed atmosphere where viewers can engage with material on their own terms as its develops organically before their eyes, open or closed.   v

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