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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?
It can be hard to focus when Alice Sheppard dances.
Her recent sold-out run of DESCENT at New York Live Arts, for instance, offered a constellation of stimulation. Onstage was a large architectural ramp with an assortment of peaks and planes. There was an intricate lighting and projection design. There was a musical score that unfolded like an epic poem. There was a live score too: the sounds of Sheppard and fellow dancer Laurel Lawson's bodies interacting with the surfaces beneath them.
And there were wheelchairs. But if you think the wheelchairs are the center of this work, you're missing something vital about what Sheppard creates.
What is the right flooring system for us?
So many choices, companies, claims, endorsements, and recommendations to consider. The more you look, the more confusing it gets. Here is what you need to do. Here is what you need to know to get the flooring system suited to your needs.
"I'm sorry, but I just can't possibly give you the amount of money you're asking for."
My heart sinks at my director's final response to my salary proposal. She insists it's not me or my work, there is just no money in the budget. My disappointment grows when handed the calendar for Grand Rapids Ballet's next season with five fewer weeks of work.
"It just...always looks better in my head."
While that might not be something any of us would want to hear from a choreographer, it's a brilliant introduction to "Off Kilter" and the odd, insecure character at its center, Milton Frank. The ballet mockumentary (think "The Office" or "Parks and Recreation," but with pointe shoes) follows Frank (dancer-turned-filmmaker Alejandro Alvarez Cadilla) as he comes back to the studio to try his hand at choreographing for the first time since a plagiarism scandal derailed his fledgling career back in the '90s.
We've been pretty excited about the series for a while, and now the wait is finally over. The first episode of the show, "The Denial," went live earlier today, and it's every bit as awkward, hilarious and relatable as we hoped.
When most people think of dance students, they imagine lithe children and teenagers waltzing around classrooms with their legs lifted to their ears. It doesn't often cross our minds that dance training can involve an older woman trying to build strength in her body to ward off balance issues, or a middle-aged man who didn't have the confidence to take a dance class as a boy for fear of bullying.
Anybody can begin to learn dance at any age. But it takes a particular type of teacher to share our art form with dancers who have few prospects beyond fun and fitness a few nights a week.
Travis Wall draws inspiration from dancers Tate McCrae, Timmy Blankenship and more.
One often-overlooked relationship that exists in dance is the relationship between choreographer and muse. Recently two-time Emmy Award Winner Travis Wall opened up about his experience working with dancers he considers to be his muses.
"My muses in choreography have evolved over the years," says Wall. "When I'm creating on Shaping Sound, our company members, my friends, are my muses. But at this current stage of my career, I'm definitely inspired by new, fresh talent."
Wall adds, "I'm so inspired by this new generation of dancers. Their teachers have done such incredible jobs, and I've seen these kids grown up. For many of them, I've had a hand in their exposure to choreography."
New York City–based dancers know Gibney. It's a performance venue, a dance company, a rehearsal space, an internship possibility—a Rubik's Cube of resources bundled into two sites at 280 and 890 Broadway. And in March of this year, Gibney (having officially dropped "Dance" from its name) announced a major expansion of its space and programming; it now operates a total of 52,000 square feet, 23 studios and five performance spaces across the two locations.
Six of those studios and one performance space are brand-new at the 280 Broadway location, along with several programs. EMERGE will commission new works by emerging choreographic voices for the resident Gibney Dance Company each year; Making Space+ is an extension of Gibney's Making Space commissioning and presenting program, focused on early-career artists. For the next three years, the Joyce Theater Foundation's artist residency programs will be run out of one of the new Gibney studios, helping to fill the gap left by the closing of the Joyce's DANY Studios in 2016.
Dancers crossing over into the fitness realm may be increasingly popular, but it was never part of French-born Julie Granger's plan. Though Granger grew up a serious ballet student, taking yoga classes on the side eventually led to a whole new career. Creating her own rules along the way, Granger shares how combining the skills she learned in ballet with certifications in yoga, barre and personal training allowed her to become her own boss (and a rising fitness influencer).
José Greco popularized Spanish dance in 1950s and '60s America through his work onstage and on screen. Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater's American Spanish Dance & Music Festival is honoring the icon in recognition of what would have been his 100th birthday. As part of the tribute, Greco's three dancing children are reuniting to perform together for the first time since their father's death in 2000. Also on the program is the premiere of contemporary flamenco choreographer Carlos Rodriguez's Mar de Fuego (Sea of Fire). June 15–17, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. ensembleespanol.org.
Dance Theatre of Harlem dancers Christopher McDaniel and Crystal Serrano were working on Nacho Duato's Coming Together in rehearsal when McDaniel's foot hit a slippery spot on the marley. As they attempted a swinging lift, both dancers went tumbling, injuring Serrano as they fell. She ended up being out for a week with a badly bruised knee.
"I immediately felt, This is my fault," says McDaniel. "I broke my friend."
What's on the minds of college students today?
I recently had the honor of adjudicating at the American College Dance Association's National College Dance Festival, along with choreographer Dana Tai Soon Burgess and former National Endowment for the Arts dance specialist Douglas C. Sonntag. We chose three winners—one for Outstanding Choreography and two for Outstanding Performance—from 30 pieces representing schools throughout the country. It was a great opportunity to see what college dance students are up to—from the issues they care about to the kinds movement they're interested in exploring.
Here were the biggest trends and takeaways:
It's summer festival season! If you're feeling overwhelmed by the dizzying array of offerings, never fear: We've combed through the usual suspects to highlight the shows we most want to catch.
Subscription box services have quickly gained a dedicated following among the fashion and fitness set. And while we'd never say no to a box with new jewelry or workout wear to try, we've been waiting for the subscription model to make its way to the dance world.
Enter barre + bag, a new service that sends a curated set of items to your door each season. Created by Faye Morrow Bell and her daughter Tyler, a student in the pre-professional ballet program at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, this just-launched service offers dance, lifestyle and wellness finds in four themed bags each year: Spring Performance, Summer Study, Back-to-Studio and Nutcracker. Since all the products are specifically made for dancers, everything barre + bag sends you is something you'll actually use, (Plus, it all comes in a bag instead of a box—because what dancer can ever have enough bags?).
barre + bag's Summer Collection