Emory Dance Welcomes Emily Johnson

This month, Emory will welcome renowned contemporary dance choreographer Emily Johnson to the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts as this year’s artist in residency. 

Johnson was born and raised in Alaska but now lives in Minneapolis, where her dance company, Catalyst, is based. Catalyst’s work focuses on body-based art that unearths the experience of sensing and seeing performance.

Johnson also incorporates the raw, reflective quality of the outdoors into her choreography.

She often seems to create work around an environmental or community-based theme, such as in her new piece, “SHORE,” which is set to premiere this coming June.

“SHORE” is the third installment in Johnson’s series, which previously included “The Thank-You Bar” and “Niicugni,” both of which draw inspiration from her Alaskan roots and include props such as fish-skin lanterns.

Here at Emory, Johnson is working with a select group of dancers from the Emory Dance Company (EDC) to create an original performance. Having had the opportunity to sit in on a rehearsal, it’s clear to me why Emory would pursue Johnson for a residency.

Johnson sees value in the dancer as an individual, all while upholding a cohesive group dynamic.

The dancers rarely move in unison. Through collaborative singing and duets, they all connect to one another and the audience.

At the beginning of the rehearsal process, Johnson asked each of her cast members to tell a personal story in response to questions she asked, such as, “What makes you happy?” She then implemented these stories into the dance as a sort of narration.

These individual stories became part of the choreography for the whole group, once again intertwining the group and the individual.

“It is not in unison or necessarily all goes together, but it works,” College sophomore and cast member Meredith Lerner said. “I have never had that kind of an experience where I show up, and I honestly don’t know what to expect. We went to a soccer game, and we watched how the players moved, and we’re using that as our inspiration for how we move on the stage.”

Johnson ended her rehearsal by saying that there are times in dance where the focus is inward and times where the dancer must connect or converse with the audience.

The way Johnson values both the individual experience and group collaboration is admirable.

Her work seems to transcend dance and act as commentary on our day-to-day lives.

This new piece will premiere as part of the fall EDC showcase, which will run Nov. 21-23.

Additionally, Johnson will deliver a Creativity Conversation in the Dance Studio of the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts on Oct. 22 at 4 p.m.

— By Meredith Stedman 

Photo courtesy of Lori Teague