When was the last time you saw a dance company on "The Late Late Show with James Corden"? Or on an NPR Tiny Desk concert? Or one that became a band's in-house creative director? JA Collective has done all this through their work with the band half•alive, seemingly rewriting the rules for what a dance company can be. Combining hip-hop and contemporary forms, Aidan Carberry and Jordan Johnson's choreography ranges from the theatrical to the everyday. They craft pedestrian movement—arms and hands weaving in intricate, peculiar ways—alongside full-bodied jumps and turns.
Company: JA Collective
Ages: 22 (Carberry), 25 (Johnson)
Hometown: Southern California
Training: University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance
Accolades: First runner-up, 2018 Capezio A.C.E. Awards
Deciding to collaborate: The duo met in Kaufman's inaugural class, graduating in 2019. Carberry did hip hop, and Johnson was primarily a contemporary dancer. After they choreographed a solo together for a friend, they decided to team up to "express things in our combined work that we couldn't express in our own," says Johnson.
Training at Kaufman: Professor and artistic advisor William Forsythe took the duounder his wing, and they studied extensively with hip-hop artist d. Sabela grimes. "It helped us figure out what we did and didn't like," Carberry says.
Feedback from their mentor: Grimes feels lucky to have the pair in his "creative family." "JA Collective exemplifies purpose-driven collaboration," he says. "Inventiveness overflows at the intersections of their practices. They embody malleable concepts, calculated intuition, mutual admiration, spacious musicality and full-view attention to details."
Photo by THE WORK OF JAR, Courtesy JA Collective
Getting the gig with half•alive: Johnson is bassist J Tyler Johnson's brother. Lead singer Josh Taylor had seen Johnson's work on Instagram and asked him to create some dance elements for the "aawake at night" video. Next, JA Collective choreographed "still feel.," which garnered one million views in two weeks. It helped the band blow up. Now, JA Collective tours regularly with half•alive, as dancers and as the group's creative directors. Last summer they appeared at four U.S. festivals, including Lollapalooza, and in Australia and New Zealand.
On being creative directors for a band: In addition to crafting movement for videos, photo shoots and live shows, Johnson and Carberry collaborate with half•alive on its aesthetic content: Together they dream up color palettes, staging, scenery and story for each performance. "Working with the band members means putting our style to the side and seeing how nondancers' bodies move," Carberry says. "Josh is a natural mover, so we watch him freestyle and go from there. Jordan and I find moves that make the band look good; we don't put our moves on them."