Emily Johnson Hosted the Most Epic Sleepover Ever
When I first reached out to Emily Johnson about doing a livestream for Dance Magazine's Facebook page, I never anticipated participating in the performance. But when she invited me to be a steward (whose role was to assist the audience with the events occurring throughout the night), I jumped at the opportunity.
Johnson is known for her participatory dance performances that bring together both artist and audience, usually in a compilation of deeply personal stories told through both movement and words. But what really drew me into her work was her genuine interest in the well-being of her surroundings and her community.
Her latest project, Then A Cunning Voice and A Night We Spent Gazing at Stars, took place on Randall's Island last Saturday, hosted by Performance Space 122. The all-night production was yet another beautifully organic performance experience by Johnson's company Catalyst Dance, bringing together dance, storytelling, star-gazing, silence, discussion, breakfast and sunrise.
Emily Johnson at Wassiac Residency, Photo by Karl Allen
The performance opened with a serving of Rivermint rainforest cherry iced tea and Pimihkan bites dipped in chocolate, created by artist and food futurist Jen Rae. After brief opening remarks by Johnson and members of the Lenape Tribe, my fellow stewards and I led the audience two miles along the East River to the performance location at Sunken Meadow. Johnson informed the audience that we were on Lenape homeland and to pay respect she directed us to walk in silence.
At Sunken Meadow there were 84 folded quilts designed by textile artist Maggie Thompson, and created by various sewing bees in cities around the United States, Taiwan and Australia. Written on the quilts were answers to questions like, "What do you want for your well-being? For your family and friends? For your greater community?" While I opened the quilts I could feel the community of people it took to make them, and the bonds we were about to make answering those same questions.
Sewing Bee audience and volunteers at Northern Spark, Photo by Erin Westover
Throughout the evening those conversations occurred over feasts of smoked salmon from Alaska, Iroquios white cornbread and delicious raw vegetables from the Randall's Island Urban Farm. As stewards, we led groups to various campfires where stories were told by native elders and park administrators. Sprinkled throughout the evening were performances by Johnson and her collaborators, Tania Isaac and 12-year-old Georgia Lucas, who we did a short dance with as Johnson provocatively spoke of the people from which her body comes from. Her movement was simple and gestural, but powerful. You couldn't help but breathe each breath with her and notice all the performers' attention to detail while simultaneously telling stories of family and community.
At one point in the night Johnson asked us to rest our bodies on the ground; to rest so deeply that we feel the boundless possibilities that come from the earth's connection to us. I felt myself transported back to college, where I met Johnson for the first time; she was in residency at the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography and I was a student in the FSU School of Dance. At my school there was an open green—similar to the one I was lying on right then and there—where I used to lie down and think of the many possibilities ahead, and how boundless the opportunities were.
It's so interesting the way our minds can time travel. Feeling that connection to my younger self made me realize the immense amount of growth and change that I have endured. With growth comes knowledge and with knowledge comes responsibility. I realized I too have a responsibility to my community as an artist—to share my art for the good of society and create work that invites audiences to explore what is being presented to them as it relates to their own lives. That seems to be an effect that Johnson has her audiences.
Photo courtesy of Emily Johnson/Catalyst
At 4:30 am violinist Lynn Bechtold began to play a somber melody that allowed the audience time to reflect on the wisdom and conversation that had been shared throughout the night. By 6:11 am the sun was rising and the performers and audience members were spread along the shore of the East River.
I found myself full of gratitude for the thought-provoking experience and left asking myself the same questions that had been asked of many throughout this process: How do the actions and interests of our neighbors create the landscapes we live in? How can we better ourselves for the better of our community? For a better future?
For the past 3 years, choreographer Stephen Petronio has been reviving groundbreaking works of postmodern dance through his BLOODLINES project. This season, although his company will be performing a work by Merce Cunningham, his own choreography moves in a more luxurious direction. We stepped into the studio with Petronio and his dancers where they were busy creating a new work, Hardness 10, named for the categorization of diamonds.
'Tis the season to have some fun in the kitchen. If you want to get more creative than simply baking another pumpkin pie, try these Nutcracker-themed treats—created by and for dancers. These recipes from former Boston Ballet and Joffrey Ballet dancers were first published in Dance Magazine's December 1990 issue. Today, they're still guaranteed to turn any holiday party or dressing room into a true Land of the Sweets.
It's no secret that affording college is a challenge for many students. And for dancers, there are added complications, like the relative lack of merit scholarships that take artistic talent into consideration and the improbability of a stable salary to pay off loans post-graduation. But no matter your budget, a smart approach to the application process can help you focus less on money and more on your training.
According to Drexel University performing arts department head Miriam Giguere, figuring out the kind of financial assistance a school offers is just as important as navigating what kind of dance program you want. Here's how to incorporate finances into your decision-making process:
When dancers get injured, they often think they should eat less. The thought process goes something like, Since I'm not able to move as much as I usually do, I'm not burning enough calories to justify the portions I'm used to.
But the truth is, scaling back your meals could actually be detrimental to your healing process.
We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.
But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.
A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.
"Women are often presented as soft, fragile little creatures in ballet," says Léonore Baulac. "We're not." The Paris Opéra Ballet's newest female étoile is discussing her unease at some of the 19th-century narratives she portrays. "It was real acting," she says with a laugh of La Sylphide. "James kills her by taking away her wings, yet she tells him not to worry and goes to die elsewhere onstage!"
Sitting in the canteen of the Palais Garnier, Baulac embodies some of ballet's contradictions in the 21st century. With her fair curls and dainty features, she could easily pass for a little girl's fantasy princess. As Juliet, she exuded a girlish ardor that felt entirely natural; her reservations notwithstanding, her Sylphide was committed and carefully Romantic in style.
Yet the 27-year-old is no ingénue. At Garnier that day, her sweater reads "I can't believe I still have to protest this s**t," a feminist slogan; last winter, Baulac proudly wore it over a Kitri tutu on Instagram. And her repertoire is as thoroughly modern as she is offstage. A versatile performer even by Parisian standards, she is equally at home in Nutcracker as she is in the works of Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.
With her fearless demeanor onstage, it's easy to see how Washington Ballet apprentice Sarah Steele attracted the keen eye of former American Ballet Theatre stars Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel. Promoted mid-season from the studio company by artistic director Kent, Steele was cast by Stiefel as the lead in Frontier, his world premiere for The Washington Ballet, this past spring. For the space-themed piece, Steele donned a black-and-white "space suit" onstage, exhibiting dual qualities of strength and grace. Most evocative about Steele's dancing might be her innate intelligence—she was accepted to Harvard on early admission, and plans to resume her studies there in the future. But first, she'll dance.
Lots of college groups do stepping—a form of body percussion based on slapping, tapping and stomping—but Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company to do it. They are currently at New York City's New Victory Theater, presenting The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, a show based on the painting series by Harlem Renaissance artist Jacob Lawrence about The Great Migration of the 1900s, when millions of African Americans fled the Jim Crow South and traveled by train to the North for a better life. The Great Migration transformed the demographics of the country, and Jacob Lawrence's paintings became famous for their bold color and evocative power.
As we approach Thanksgiving, there's much to be grateful for. Perhaps one of the most important things on your list is dance. Whether you're a full-time company member, an aspiring professional, an audience member, or you simply delight in dancing in your daydreams, this art form is a creative escape.
That's not to say that being a dancer is easy: Pursuing such a competitive career can be heartbreaking, especially when you're faced with rejection.
La Folía, a short dance film by director Adam Grannick that was recently released online, echoes these sentiments in under 12 minutes.
It took two years of intense nutrition counseling and psychotherapy to pull me out of being anorexic. My problem now is that I've gained too much weight from eating normally. Is there no middle ground? I can't fit into my clothes, but I don't want to go back to being sick.
—Former Anorexic, Weston, CT